Queenstown mayor and councillors butt heads

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Queenstown’s mayor is butting heads with several councillors despite the council moving to axe all major committees.

Mayor Vanessa van Uden three weeks ago first signalled a proposal to axe Queenstown Lakes District Council’s finance, strategy, infrastructure and community services committees in favour of one big monthly full council meeting.

The idea was to save council staff and councillors time as well as ensure all councillors were across every issue, she told Mountain Scene at the time.

Council had to be mindful one of the barriers for people standing was lack of time, she argued.

However, at last week’s first full council meeting, councillor Cath Gilmour said committees – which consider matters and make recommendations to the full council – were an important opportunity for focused thinking and discussion.

“Under the committee structure you have core groups of interest – and you can sit down and discuss things in depth.

“This significantly reduces the chance for public input,” Gilmour said.

“It’ll be a more once-over-lightly approach with the portfolio system,” she told councillors, adding that it risked more rubber-stamping of decisions. 

The proposed new system sees certain councillors appointed as portfolio leaders aligned with council staff divisions.

Gilmour: “It’s more centralised and places more responsibility and control on the shoulders of [chief executive Adam Feeley] and [mayor] Vanessa.”

Van Uden responded by asking if she felt they hadn’t had a full discussion about the items already on the agenda at that meeting.

Gilmour replied that she believed they had, but it wouldn’t always be the case when the council term progressed and agendas filled up.

“I think it’s important to outline these concerns.” 

Councillor Simon Stamers-Smith piped up saying he’d like it noted he agreed with Gilmour’s sentiments.

Van Uden added: “There’s a saying … if you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got.” 

Van Uden says the portfolio leaders and their deputies will have the same responsibility as committee chairs used to – except they won’t be running meetings.

“I don’t think it’s centralisation of power but for everybody to have a role and understanding of what’s going on.

Look at the public forum today – a significant amount of people turned up and what you saw was people expressing concern and havng input. The benefit is all the councillors will get to hear what those people are saying.

“However, it’s a trial so we’ll see if it works or not.”

Under the new arrangement, Gilmour is leader of planning and development with Wanaka councillor Ella Lawton as deputy, while deputy mayor Lyal Cocks, of Wanaka, leads infrastructure and assets with first-term councillor Alexa Forbes as deputy.

Third-term councillor Mel Gazzard is the operations portfolio leader and first-term councillor Craig ‘Ferg’Ferguson is deputy.