Conflict cul-de-sac

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Councillors’ street upgrade – one remorseful, one defiant.

One councillor’s close to tears and another admits “a perceived conflict of interest” over a $564,000 council upgrade of their Kelvin Heights cul-de-sac.

Willow Place is a 700-metre lakeshore gem with just 25 homes, two belonging to councillors Cath Gilmour and Gillian Macleod – they’re next-door neighbours.

After sewerage work, Queens­town Lakes District Council is doing an “upgrade of the entire length of Willow Place” – road resealing, drainage and ducts for future underground power.

It’s costing $564,847 – with GST, that’s $907 a metre or $25,418 per property.

“I’m a bit gob-smacked if that’s the cost,” says McLeod this week. “It’s starting to look a bit startling, isn’t it?”

Official documents reveal Macleod and Gilmour playing quite a part in the project – which is
why Mountain Scene called them.

Both sit on QLDC’s utilities committee, although they were absent from its February 3 meeting approving the work.

Yet an earlier report by QLDC roading manager Ian Marshall reveals “[Willow Place] meetings were held with councillors Gilmour and Macleod during December 2008 to give an update on project details and timeframes”.

Minutes of the February 3 meeting contain other revelations.

Marshall first apologised to the committee for seeking retrospective approval – the Willow Place contract was already signed and work had started – partly it seems on the say-so of Macleod and Gilmour.

According to the minutes, “[Marshall] noted that in order to complete the project in the current construction season, [council boss

Duncan Field] had already signed the contract following consultation [with] councillors Mann, Gilmour and Macleod.” (John Mann chairs the utilities committee.)

Speaking to Mountain Scene, Gilmour and Mac­­­leod initially played down their roles in their cul-de-sac’s upgrade.

Gilmour: “My involvement has been very little.”

But later: “I’ve been involved with various consultation meetings, the engineers have come and talked [to me], and we’ve talked with residents.”

And Macleod? “Not a great deal [of involvement] … you know, it was just a watching brief,” she first said.

Then followed an ad­­­miss­ion she’d “met the project manager and went through all the drawings with him”.

On behalf of neighbours, Macleod resisted putting footpaths in – “we wanted to retain that country-lane feel” – and she oversaw landscaping, while ensuring work was done in the right order with no unnecessary trees felled.

Yes, sure, Field consulted her before signing the contract – but that’s no big deal.

“The work had already been started so I think as a retrospective step they said, look, we’ll just make sure Cath and Gillian and John [Mann] are happy with it to proceed,” says Macleod.

Gilmour isn’t as comfortable as Macleod over endorsing the deal for Field.

“You’re right actually – I’d totally forgotten about that one, sorry,” she told Mountain Scene.

Could there be a perceived conflict of interest?

“Yep, there could well be – I could see that that could be perceived.”

But it was Field’s decision to sign, Gilmour says – “so I didn’t have a decision-making role in that sense”.

Gilmour agreed it was not a good look. “I can understand that.”

But thanks to Gilmour and Macleod, QLDC achieved a cheaper option.

Unlike Gilmour, Macleod rejects suggestions of conflict of interest.

“I feel I’m elected because people know I’m a direct and honest person and I’ve never shown favours or taken favours – I can’t see there’d be any perceived conflict at all.

“If anything, we’d said we wanted less work than more work.”

Macleod closed her interview emotionally before hanging up – she’s “gobsmacked” again.

“Now I’m feeling I’ve done something wrong and it never occurred to me.

“It’s aggressive, misleading and slanting [sic] reporting and now you make me want to cry – ’cos I just feel so terrible after talking to you …”