Confrontation after contract deal allegedly sidelined.
Councillor Vanessa van Uden and three colleagues have forced a showdown with mayor Clive Geddes and senior Queenstown Lakes District Council managers today.
After being fobbed off for months, Van Uden says, the four councillors demanded an extraordinary council meeting – scheduled for 9am today – to thrash out the framework of an important roading deal.
The issue came to a head last week when, despite repeated undertakings, the matter was left off a utilities committee agenda, she says.
In urgent business last week, Van Uden broke ranks and stated: “We are all being treated with utter contempt by the officers of this council.”
This week she went further.
“Some councillors are being treated like mushrooms by council officers,” Van Uden told Mountain Scene.
All eight councillors present last week wanted the issue discussed early this week when the committee met again.
Again, the item didn’t make the agenda – “I was told it was because of the mayor and [council boss] Duncan Field” – so “I vented my displeasure to the CEO,” Van Uden says.
“How do the wishes of eight councillors get overruled?
“Maybe it couldn’t be discussed because of standing orders but a way could have been found.”
The outspoken councillor accepts she’s challenging the combined authority of Geddes and Field.
“I don’t want to say they’re trying to muzzle me.
“I suspect the issue is neither of them are perhaps used to councillors who actually understand how the system works and are willing to stand up and question them.”
Van Uden admits putting a stake in the ground for democracy.
Democratically elected councillors are being sidelined from decision-making, she alleges.
Van Uden forced today’s extraordinary QLDC meeting with the support of councillors Lyal Cocks, Mel Gazzard and Cath Gilmour.
“To have to requisition a meeting to get an important matter discussed is poor.”
She’s further peeved at staff recommending the public and media should be banned from this morning’s meeting.
“We asked for a report and a discussion on the format the [road maintenance] contract will take – there is nothing commercially sensitive about that at all.”
Van Uden has no idea who exactly recommended the public be excluded but “it would have to get past [Field]” – she hopes councillors would vote to overturn that. (The meeting was to be held after Mountain Scene went to press.)
“I can’t figure out why they want it behind closed doors.”
The councillor’s not worried her showdown with Geddes and Field might affect her future dealings with them.
She says her concern on the roading contract is that it shouldn’t follow the format used for the United Water deal.
That water and wastewater contract saw overspending of about $1.1 million this past council year, she says.