Queenstown send corporate SOS

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Queenstown’s mayor wants to co-opt unelected business brains to a proposed new council committee in her latest post-election shake-up.

Mayor Vanessa van Uden – who aims to set up a new “audit and risk” committee – is floating co-opting non-elected members on to beef up her non-commercial council.

They’d come from the business sector, she says: “The critical thing is it’ll give us some financial expertise.” 

The new committee might have four or five people, Van Uden says, both councillors and some business boffins – but she won’t say who she might have in mind for the roles.

The planned business boost follows criticism of her new council being poorly endowed with commercial acumen.

Local business titan Sir Eion Edgar has called the lack of commercial expertise disappointing.

Significantly, the mayor says the proposed new committee would be the financial guardian of the Queenstown Lakes District Council. 

However, the committee would fall “under the auspices of the full council” – for example, the council would decide who was co-opted, Van Uden stresses. In the Queenstown-Wakatipu ward, returned councillors Cath Gilmour is an ex-reporter, Mel Gazzard a former school principal, and Simon Stamers-Smith a lawyer.

New faces Craig Ferguson is a radio announcer and Merv Aoake a domestic violence worker.

Fellow newbie Alexa Forbes is the only Queenstown-Wakatipu councillor with a business background – she co-owned a PR company.

Van Uden will take her business-boffin idea to the November 14 council meeting – the same meeting where she’s hoping to push through her other big shakeup, announced last week.

Following councillor consultation, Van Uden is “absolutely” certain she has the numbers to scrap four existing council committees – and set up her new audit and risk committee.

“We had a workshop discussion last Thursday and there was a general consensus round the table that we’ll give it a go,” Van Uden says.

The new set-up will be trialled for several months.

Under the new structure, the finance, strategy, infrastructure and community services committees would be disbanded – but not the Wanaka Community Board.

Apart from meetings of the new audit and risk committee, there would just be “a full council meeting that deals with all the stuff once a month”, the mayor says.

Van Uden: “We’ll pretty much know after six months whether it’s working or not.”

Recent changes to local government law mean she could set up the new committee structure unilaterally, Van Uden says, “but I took the position we’re all together in this”.