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Hat in the ring: Queenstown's Jon Mitchell is standing to be the resort's new mayor

By TRACEY ROXBURGH

Let the campaigning begin.

Queenstowner Jon Mitchell celebrated his 58th birthday on Tuesday by being the first out of the gate to put his hand up for the mayoral chains, announcing he’s standing as an independent candidate for this year’s local body elections.

Mitchell, who stood as the Labour candidate for the Southland seat in the 2020 general elections, says standing for the mayoralty is something he’s been thinking about for ‘‘a long time’’.

‘‘There have been a lot of people suggesting I should do it, so I think the time’s right.

‘‘It is [a thankless job] and there are lots of challenges … but the few years ahead of us are a time when we really need some leadership that’s looking to the future and [that’s] got some experience behind diversifying the economy and putting community ahead of some of the big business interests that have had a lot of priority in the past, and that may have been appropriate at the time, but we’re in a different time now.

‘‘I think the time’s right to bring a different approach.’’

The father of two says Queenstown’s council needs to be more transparent, and ensure the communities views and aspirations are reflected by its actions.

‘‘There’s been a few things, like the Wānaka Airport situation and the Lakeview project, which I think are examples of that, where the council went off on a tangent without the support of the respective communities, so I’d like to make sure those sorts of things don’t happen again, it’s relatively big picture stuff.’’

On the Three Waters reform, Mitchell says while he has some concerns, particularly  about the scale of regional entities proposed and issues around how governance would work, ‘‘I think there are a lot of advantages’’.

In December, Queenstown’s council published an open letter to Local Government  Minister Nanaia Mahuta opposing the move to mandate the reform, in which mayor Jim Boult said he and his fellow elected members felt compelled to express their ‘‘significant
disappointment’’ and up hold their promise to oppose a central government mandate ‘‘strongly and actively’’.

However, Mitchell says the issue’s not new — it was being discussed when he worked at Central Otago District Council 30 years ago and the current programme was started by
National in 2017.

He agrees it needs to be changed and says the current model is, in many ways, ‘‘inefficient’’.

‘‘There’s too much political interference in ensuring that adequate investment is made in the right places at the right time, so having more of an arm’s length governance and management separation will, I think, benefit how infrastructure’s provided in the future.

‘‘And also, whatever form it takes under this government or a future one, shifting the financial liability, which is infrastructure, from local authorities to the new entity means the local authorities will be able to do so much more.

‘‘Three Waters was always going to happen one way or another — and we need to make the most of it for our communities and have a constructive voice in ensuring we get the best out of it for our communities.’’

He’s planning to step back from the Labour Party and, as far as social media goes, Mitchell, who’s been an active commenter, says he’s going to be taking ‘‘a different approach’’.

‘‘I’ve worked in local government that has been a highly party-political environment in the UK and it’s nowhere near as effective as the model we have here in New Zealand, which tends not to have that.

‘‘So I’ll be doing much less of that.’’

tracey.roxburgh@scene.co.nz