Queenstown mayor mulls radical change

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Queenstown’s mayor is mulling a radical overhaul of council – axing almost all committees.

Second-term mayor Vanessa van Uden, re-elected two weeks ago, tells Mountain Scene she’s very keen to “get away from committees and just have a full council meeting that deals with all the stuff once a month”.

It’s just an idea at this stage and more discussion is needed with councillors, she says.

“We’re not really at the point of anything being finalised,” she said yesterday.

But the main aims are to ensure all councillors are across every issue and save council staff and councillors’ time.

Van Uden’s vision would see the finance, strategy, infrastructure and community services committees disbanded, but not the Wanaka Community Board.

The mayor also wants Queenstown Lakes District Council to set up a new audit and risk committee.

Some individual councillors would then effectively be put in charge of portfolios – much like Parliament – mirroring council departments like operations, planning and development and infrastructure.

Van Uden says things get well discussed at committee level with briefer reports going to full council – but every elected representative should, for example, be across all the strategy committee issues, not just four or five councillors.

Asked if it’d be less transparent as council would have fewer public meetings, she says: “Instead of having four or five councillors scrutinising things we’ll have 11.

“And I would expect we’ll see good, in-depth quality discussion at those meetings.

“The other side of the coin we have to be mindful of is that one of the barriers to standing for local government is time,” Van Uden says.

“If we can reduce the time but still get quality decisions then it’s worth exploring.”

Last week, Queenstown-based business titan Sir Eion Edgar expressed disappointment at the lack of councillors with strong business backgrounds elected – and Van Uden challenged the local commercial community to step up with more candidates for 2016.

Van Uden’s committee overhaul proposal comes on the back of this year’s major council organisational review, which suggested it was losing the paper war.

A consultation report into governance noted the quality of content in some council meeting papers varied significantly and a high proportion of agenda items were for noting only.

“Consideration should be given to whether this volume of reporting is actually required to be referred to council and committees,” a consultation report noted.

Cutting the amount of “noting” reports would free up considerable staff resources.

Van Uden says she’ll be having more discussion with councillors before a new structure is unveiled at their first full meeting on November 14.