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 …”