Queenstown mayor tells business community to step up

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A QUEENSTOWN business luminary is disappointed in the new-look council’s commercial credentials – and the mayor’s calling on Queenstown Inc to step up in 2016.

Queenstown-based Forsyth Barr sharebroking firm chairman and philanthropist Sir Eion Edgar says dumped councillors like ex-roading manager Trevor Tattersfield are a big loss, particularly given finance committee chair John Mann stood down.

Asked if he sees enough business expertise in the new-look council, Edgar says: “I think that’s the disappointing aspect. They might be good people but there’s not many with the experience of the Trevor Tattersfields … who’ve got a business background.

“It’s very important – Dunedin went the other way, it elected some businesspeople. It’s disappointing that people don’t think that council is the biggest business in the region and therefore you need some commercial input.”

Edgar says re-elected mayor Vanessa van Uden gets a commercial tick but it puts a load on her: “Who’s going to chair the finance committee? Mann was excellent, who’s going to take those roles?”

In the Queenstown-Wakatipu ward, incumbent councillors Cath Gilmour, an ex-journalist, retired school principal Mel Gazzard and lawyer Simon Stamers-Smith were all re-elected. New faces are former PR queen Alexa Forbes, radio broadcaster Craig ‘Ferg’ Ferguson and domestic violence worker Merv Aoake.

RHE Mechanical owner Warwick Stalker was one with a strong business CV who missed the cut.

Van Uden says she believes the new faces understand budgets – and will get up to speed quickly.

In response to any criticism council lacks commercial expertise, she says: “Where were all the commercial people standing? Over the next three years I’d say some in the business community need to consider putting their hand up in terms of us getting a well-rounded, well-skilled council.

“We have a lot of people who have a lot of viewpoints which they’re happy to share and I just think that you have to put your hand up and say you’re willing to give back a bit.

“It was my motivation. You can sit back and moan or you can put your hand up and do something about it,” Van Uden says.

One part of council strong on commercial nous is its staff, she says, adding: “There’s a fair degree of commercial expertise on council staff, probably more than we’ve had for a number of years in terms of hard-edged business stuff, and they need to deliver.”

Van Uden, in her second-term as mayor – which she’s adamant will also be her last – plans to meet councillors today and tomorrow.

Under new local government laws, as mayor she has the power to appoint her deputy and committee chairs but plans to consult with councillors first.

In a hint she won’t follow tradition and select highest-polling Wanaka ward candidate Calum MacLeod as her deputy, Van Uden says: “There’s been an unspoken convention but we’ve seen a couple of examples where that hasn’t been followed so what I can say is it’s the best person for the job who’ll have the job.” 

Who knows if it means it’ll be deputy mayor Lyal Cocks, who polled second in Wanaka.

Van Uden’s keen to start an audit and risk committee – but wants councillors in agreement before she makes the decisions on who’ll run committees as councillors can overrule her.

“It’s better to have a team working together in agreement as much as possible rather than one of the first things you deal with is councillors trying to overrule the mayor.”