Mayor conflict query

Campaign funding questions: Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden with medical entrepreneur Mr Xia Jie in 2014

Queenstown’s outgoing mayor pushed a developer’s case with council staff after a meeting involving a big campaign donor.

Emails released to Mountain Scene show mayor Vanessa van Uden attended a high-powered summit between council and Skyline bigwigs on January 13.

Months later, the council announced a controversial plan to spend $250,000 extending the Marine Parade footpath and scrapping 15 carparks in front of Skyline’s building.

The January summit was attended by Skyline director and major shareholder Grant Hensman, who donated to the mayor’s successful 2010 election campaign.

Van Uden, who’s not seeking re-election, says there is no conflict.

“His $5000 donation to my election campaign in 2010 was declared at the time and is a matter of record.”

Hensman picks up the mayor’s theme.

“I don’t see there was any conflict,” he tells the Scene.

“Are you saying if I donate to any mayoral campaign, they can’t have anything to do with anything that’s involved with myself and anything I’m related to?”

However, Skyline chairman Mark Quickfall says Hensman raised it with him prior to the meeting.

“He did advise me of his conflict.”

He adds: “As chairman of Skyline I would expect him and any other director to conduct themselves in a manner that was transparent and not mix their personal interests with the company.”

Notes from January’s meeting include mention of a “cost share” for ratepayers for the “streetscape” on Marine Parade, in front of Skyline’s new building.

When news broke in April of the council’s controversial $250,000 plan, it sparked outcry from nearby business owners – upset at poor consultation and the scrapping of 15 carparks.

January’s Skyline summit was a ‘who’s who’ of top brass. Attendees included then council boss Adam Feeley and senior managers Stewart Burns and Peter Hansby, as well as Quickfall, Skyline CEO Jeff Staniland, Skyline Queenstown boss Lyndon Thomas and Hensman.

Two days later, the mayor emailed participants to “summarise our next steps”, saying she wanted to “keep things moving”.

On February 25, Van Uden demanded an update from senior managers Burns and Hansby after they failed one on an agreed “action list” requested “some days ago”.

Hansby replied first thing on February 26.

Van Uden: “As mayor I am involved in many initial meetings about proposed developments, issues and projects put forward by all sectors of our community.”

She adds: “I have always considered that my job is to try and get things done community to do business with, not to drive for any particular outcome on anyone’s behalf.”

Ex-boss Feeley says: “The mayor was very actively involved in those discussions and the position that the council reached on it.”

The head of Queenstown council’s audit and risk committee, Dunedin accountant Stuart McLauchlan, says full disclosure of elected members’ conflicts is a “work in progress”.

In an emailed statement, acting council boss Burns says Van Uden has declared two conflicts on its interests register and proposed “appropriate mitigation” for managing each.

“Neither relate to Skyline. I am not aware of any issues in relation to the handling of conflicts involving the mayor.”

Skyline and the council

2010: Queenstown’s council and Skyline agree the company won’t face a big lease hike until 2020

September 2015: Skyline gets 13 Marine Parade spaces for construction of its new building, paying just $10 per park per day

April 2016: The council sets aside $250,000 to widen the Marine Parade footpath outside Skyline’s building, losing 15 carparks

May: Council agrees to pay a third of the cost – “no more than $200,000” – of removing trees threatening Skyline’s cableway