“Welcome everybody, to the first serious meeting, shall we say.”
And with that, re-elected mayor Vanessa van Uden kicked off the first public get-together of her new-look Queenstown Lakes District Council on Gorge Road last Thursday afternoon.
Joining her at the table were newly elected Queenstown-Wakatipu ward councillors Merv Aoake, Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson and Alexa Forbes – plus the Wanaka new entrants Calum MacLeod and Ella Lawton.
Van Uden no doubt referred to it as the “first serious meeting” as they’ve already had a few informal get-togethers and some training.
If any of the new councillors – or the existing ones for that matter – had any illusions about the nature of their role they were surely tempered when local resident Basil Walker intoned during the start of the public forum: “I am appalled about the situation with the Cardrona speed hump”.
But that wasn’t council agitator Walker’s only concern – he warbled on for a good while about all manner of problems, before seemingly mistaking himself for the mayor and telling councillors: “My effort this term will be on saving ratepayers’ funds by using practical and self-employed skills learned in the construction and retail development sectors and ensuring that a nil rates increase will be the legacy of this council.”
Well, thank goodness for that.
Walker was followed by a stream of Glenorchy locals and business operators imploring council to transfer the Glenorchy airstrip from the Department of Conservation to council – a decision it would make later in the meeting.
Mayor Van Uden had to move that the public forum be extended past its 30-minute allotted time.
Once that was done, they got down to business – considering a proposed land acquisition in Wanaka, the airstrip transfer, a croquet club lease extension, a dog control report.
At one point talkative new face MacLeod attempted to interrupt before a resolution up for consideration was read, and mayor Van Uden hushed him up with “not now”.
After it was read, he asked with a grin: “Can I speak now? I feel like I’m back at school.”
Van Uden: “Yes, it’s very much like that.”
An hour into the meeting new Queenstown-Wakatipu ward councillor Merv Aoake made his first contribution by carefully and quietly filling his glass of water and then refilling that of councillor MacLeod next to him.
During the afternoon cup of tea break, new councillor Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson says he’s not feeling too daunted and the workload is as he expected: “I didn’t take the role on to not do it justice.
“If you do the homework, everything is good.”
Ferguson, a veteran local radio disc jockey, admits he’s thankful he starts his morning radio shift at 4.30am so he’s done by noon and can get into the reading of reports and agendas: “Thank goodness.”
Mayor Van Uden signals the tea break is over, marching back to the head of the debating table and declaring: “Right, let’s rock and roll!”
Walker wanders to the media bench and hands over his notes from his little speech earlier and points out: “I’m going to be here every time, I’m going to chase this money.”