Hilary Mitchell


Nelson City Councillor 1989 - 1995 

In the mid-late 1980s I was Chair of the Beneficiaries and Unwaged Workers' Trust (BUWT). Our detached youth worker was the only adult who had established contact with a group of young teenagers who were living on the streets of Nelson. I stood for Council because I was shocked by a councillor's attitude to and language about the street kids, many of whom could not live at home because of very difficult or abusive circumstances. I stood in the Maitai Ward.        

Hilary Mitchell
Hilary Mitchell 20 June 1992. Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Mail collection: CO8078

After the election I and another new woman councillor encountered some bullying that eventually withered and died when it failed to intimidate us. There was a tendency for the Council leaders to spring agenda items on the rest of us, often without staff reports, and requiring instant decisions; resistance resolved that. One councillor asked the Auditor-General to examine whether I should be allowed to vote on any matter to do with Maori or Maori-owned land on the grounds that my husband was a very minor shareholder and Board member of Wakatu Incorporation; the Auditor-General decided I had no conflict of interest.

I remember another councillor presenting a paper to a committee arguing that the Maori language was not suitable for street names because of its limited alphabet: Chinese, Russian perhaps?

Debates were formal in those days. You had one chance to speak and it was important to choose the right moment to achieve greatest effect. I valued the non-party aspect of Council. I found that while you could predict how some councillors (at both ends of the political spectrum) would vote on any issue, there were always a number in the middle who could be swayed if you did your homework thoroughly, produced evidence, and presented cogent arguments. A good way for a council to operate.

During my time on council the Nelson Mail was always present at full council meetings and often at committee meetings too. One reporter was an expert at shorthand and you had to be careful not to be too graphic in your speeches or you would find yourself quoted verbatim on the front page the next day. I am sorry that NCC does so much of its business behind closed doors (in "workshops") these days. I believe councils are obliged to have their debates in public, and that we as citizens have a right to hear those discussions.

I enjoyed working with other councillors, I couldn't believe I was being paid to pursue my favourite pastime (arguing), and I loved knowing what was going on in the city. It was a privilege to be able to influence the fabric of our city. I did not stand again in 1995 because of other priorities.

This was published in: Women Decision-Makers Nelson and Tasman 1944 -2018, p.44. Compiled by Dr Shelley Richardson, Elaine Henry, Gail Collingwood, Hilary Mitchell.

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Further sources - Hilary Mitchell


  • Richardson, S., Henry, E., Collingwood, G. Mitchell, H. (2018). Women decision-makers Nelson and Tasman 1944-2018. Nelson, New Zealand