15% approval rating and $415,000 salary: pressure on mayor to sort out CEO

by Peter Newport - Mar 01, 2024


In any other universe Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Mike Theelen would have been gone years ago when the community’s rating of the council dropped from 31 percent to 25 percent.

But since then, with ratepayers' trust and confidence eroded down to 15 percent, Mr Theelen’s been awarded pay rise after pay rise and contract extension after contract extension.

It’s gone beyond expecting our councillors to fix the problem. Mr Theelen’s found some strategies to prevent that happening. His favourite tactic is to insist that councillors, media and ratepayers must show unlimited kindness and respect to his fragile team.

It’s clever because who can argue against such a reasonable request? Mr Theelen gives the impression that his team, and he includes himself in that group, work so hard and are under so much stress that it would not take much to push them over the edge.

Basking in this artificial security of his own making, Mr Theelen and his team have literally gone to town, counting on the support of our elected councillors, with astronomical spending on projects that generally we neither want nor need.

If our councillors had any spine they would have stopped him years ago – but that ship has sailed the same way as clean water, decent public transport, accountability, transparency, and separation from the never-ending needs of our largely hidden “top end of town”.

These are the same business interests that helped get Mr Lewers elected, who wanted the ratepayer to tip $100 million into the luxury Lakeview apartments (disguised as “affordable housing”), who support a $128 million 670 metre "road to nowhere", who welcome a blind eye being turned to construction debris destroying houses in Reavers Lane, who accept spending $14 million on 516 Ladies Mile with no visible plan on how to use it, who don’t want media asking 'awkward' questions about jobs for council mates or dodgy accounting practices.

Welcome to Queenstown.

But there’s a nasty dynamic that perhaps both Mr Theelen and Mayor Lewers don’t see coming.

Powerful local businesspeople aren’t very tolerant of trouble. Trouble risks the spotlight being thrown on them.

Unless Mayor Lewers gets Mr Theelen under control, and out the door, pretty soon those business interests are going to be plotting to find both a new mayor and a new chief executive.

But what would be really nice for a change is if that decision was made 100% democratically by the residents and their elected councillors, and of course that includes Wānaka.

We are not holding our breath for this shift to happen, but hope springs eternal.

Read: the full QLDC community survey results.

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