Mayor in swim over lobbying


Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden and council boss Adam Feeley have clashed over lobbying for a swim school’s survival.

Last week, councillors voted to appoint its in-house service, Aqualand Swim School, as the sole provider at the council-run Queenstown Events Centre – banishing Frankton woman Jane Hughes’ Wakatipu Swim School from July.

If the vote had gone the other way Van Uden might have been in hot water - for suggesting to Hughes she lobby councillors directly and then personally passing on her email.

There were whispers the Auditor-General might be called in but Feeley says there’s no need for further action.

The mayor maintains she took no action on Hughes’ behalf, adding: “Councillors needed to consider all information when making the decision on the issue of a sole provider.

“I consider part of my role is to try and help members of the community through our somewhat difficult and structured processes which, if you are not dealing with them regularly, can be overwhelming and somewhat frustrating when you are trying to have your say.”

Feeley, the former head of the Serious Fraud Office, takes a different view - and pulled the mayor up on it.

Feeley says it was inappropriate for Wakatipu Swim School to communicate directly to councillors prior to the meeting because the expressions of interest (EOI) process requires submissions to go directly to an evaluation panel.

Before the vote at last Thursday’s meeting the mayor noted what Feeley calls the “irregularity” – directing councillors only to consider the evaluation panel’s report when voting.

Feeley: “In light of this, and the decision reached, I do not consider that the matter needed to be taken further.”

At last Thursday’s meeting in Wanaka, Van Uden told of her “discomfort” with the recommendation while councillor Cath Gilmour said problems with having two providers could be resolved, giving the public a choice.

Van Uden says she forwarded Hughes’ email to councillors on Wednesday afternoon without reading it.

Feeley raised his concern that evening, she says, adding: “I shared his concern with regard to the EOI process.”

On reflection, the mayor says she would do two things differently: to read the email before sending it; and separate the expressions of interest from the decision of whether to appoint a sole provider.

She adds she didn’t think that Hughes deliberately set out to compromise the process.

That’s a good thing considering she was acting on the mayor’s advice.

For her part, Hughes says she wasn’t aware of council protocols and was just trying to share her side of the story.

“Having taught Learn to Swim in Queenstown for 20 years, I know most of the Queenstown councillors personally because I’ve taught their children to swim.

“It seemed totally appropriate to share my views with them.

“Shouldn’t both sides of the story be told for an informed decision to be made?”

She had no idea such contact with councillors was inappropriate.

The evaluation panel’s advice centred on the inefficiency of two schools and financial returns.