Council planning boss Marc Bretherton’s been placed on gardening leave after resigning for a job with a major local developer.
Bretherton quit two Fridays ago and was immediately removed from all consenting work, district plan matters and other operations.
He’s accepted a job with Winton Partners.
That’s the company behind multi-million dollar developments including Queenstown’s Bridesdale Farm subdivision and Lake’s Edge at Kawarau Falls.
It’s also recently been given the green-light by the Environment Court for Wanaka’s massive Northlake subdivision.
Queenstown council boss Adam Feeley says Bretherton’s working from home on administration duties to “protect him and the council from any perception of inappropriate influence”.
His last day was yesterday.
Feeley says: “I would like to stress that I have no reason to consider that either Marc or Winton Partners have acted with anything other than complete integrity.
“It is part and parcel of being in Marc’s kind of role that he may attract the interest of a private company eager to acquire his skills.
“Nonetheless, I have sought to confirm that no conflict occurred during the recruitment process.”
Bretherton was recruited as the planning and development department’s general manager in August 2013, when arms-length organisation Lakes Environmental Ltd was taken in-house.
He leaves a department amid a development boom.
Building services manager Peter Laurenson - the mayor’s husband – resigned last month along with his number two.
Experienced planning staff are in high demand by both the public and private sector.
Feeley says one Queenstown planning firm did not get a single applicant for a role advertised recently.
“That speaks volumes of the challenges that the entire planning sector, public or private, face at the moment.”
He adds: “Our district is a particular challenge - we have similar consenting volumes to Wellington and Christchurch, despite being a fraction of their size.
“This makes our staff a very valuable resource.”
But Feeley dismissed the idea of a return to arms-length council-controlled companies or contracting everything to a private firm.
The council paid $3 million in 2007 to buy private firm Civic Corp, which was contracted to handle its regulatory functions.
It was a relationship so toxic that a Green Party MP recently used it as an example as to why councils shouldn’t privatise such work.
Feeley says: “I do not think the solution is a structural one, nor is it solely salary-related.
“It is a case of constantly working on making QLDC an employer of choice through a combination of factors - remuneration, career development, training, etc.”
Feeley expects to appoint an interim manager, from outside the council, but says he’s very disappointed to lose someone so skilled, who had improved service delivery and policy.
“The consolation is that he has put together a very good team below him who are more than capable of managing matters in the interim.”
Bretherton was previously with Wanaka’s Infinity Investment Group for six-and-a-half years, rising to general manager.
He’s also worked as a planner for Dunedin City Council and as a management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers in London.
He did not respond to Mountain Scene’s requests for an interview.