Ex-Queenstown council boss gets $62k golden goodbye

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The secret’s out – Queenstown council boss Debra Lawson received a golden goodbye of $62,500 when she left in June. 

Lawson’s exit bonus equals exactly three months of her $250,000 annual salary. 

Her employment contract ran to September 30 but Lawson left three months early, with her last day being Friday, June 29. The $62,500 financial farewell was a closely-guarded council secret – even Vanessa van Uden, 

Queenstown’s normally open mayor, steadfastly deflected all questions on the matter. 

Mountain Scene appealed to the Office of the Ombudsman. 

Following the Government watchdog’s intervention, council corporate services and regulatory boss Roger Taylor revealed he was consulting Lawson. 

“I’ve emailed Ms Lawson seeking her views on the release of the information requested,” Taylor advised Mountain Scene. 

Details of the Lawson windfall finally emerged late last week. 

“There was no payment made to Ms Lawson that meets the definition of “severance payment” as set out in the [Local Government] Act,” Taylor says. 

Under the Act, ‘severance payment’ is anything other than a final payment of salary, holiday pay or superannuation. 

For the June 30, 2012 council year, Taylor says Lawson’s total pay package was $312,500, compared with $250,000 in 2011 – a difference of $62,500. 

“Ms Lawson was employed up until June 30, 2012 and the remuneration amount includes three months’ pay in advance pursuant to contractual arrangements,” Taylor reveals. 

Lawson’s successor, Adam Feeley, has an annual salary package of $305,000. 

Gossip about Lawson’s impending departure began to swirl as early as April, forcing the council boss to hose down rumours she’d resigned. 

“Have I resigned? No,” she told Mountain Scene back then. 

However, a month later she announced the end was nigh, saying she wouldn’t seek re-appointment when her contract ended in September. 

Shortly after, Lawson announced her June 30 exit: “I have agreed with the mayor and councillors a final date to enable the recruitment process [for her successor] to get underway.” 

The final terms of Lawson’s departure were to remain confidential, the announcement stated. 

Lawson now runs Auckland’s new Tamaki Redevelopment Company, a joint venture between the Government and Auckland Council billed as New Zealand’s largest urban redevelopment organisation. 

Lawson joined Queenstown’s council in March 2009, replacing the dumped Duncan Field. 

Field received an exit payment of about $32,000 when he signed off a month before Lawson signed on. 

Then-mayor Clive Geddes described Field’s financial farewell as “a payment in lieu of notice”.