Ex 'full-time' Q'town Chamber boss earned over $500,000 from three other jobs
A Crux investigation has revealed that the former chief executive of the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce was earning up to $600 an hour for the Auckland Light Rail project while heading the local business advocacy group on a full-time salary.
Ruth Stokes also had two other roles, one with the Auckland Council and the other with the Taranaki Regional Council, but it appears no laws have been broken in spite of all three jobs being delivered outside procurement rules designed to deliver transparency, ratepayer value and fair competition.
Mrs Stokes, who in her Chamber of Commerce role famously said Queenstown would be “closed by Friday”, was the full time chief executive with limited permission to do some pre-existing contract work for the Taranaki Regional Council.
We’ve now discovered that Mrs Stokes has earned a total of $190,547 (excluding GST) working on the Taranaki Regional Council’s Yarrow Stadium project along with friend and fellow Queenstown consultant Jendi Paterson ($788,725) and fellow Queenstown “super consultant” Bruce Robertson ($161,049). Crux has previously documented that at the same time as starting work on the Yarrow Stadium both Mrs Stokes and Ms Paterson were employed by the Hamilton City Council on two separate projects.
But starting in August 2022, four months prior to resigning with the Chamber of Commerce, Mrs Stokes was hired to work on land acquisition for the Auckland Light Rail (ALR) project and has earned $329,000 (excluding GST) up to the end of May 2023. Some of that time, she was on an hourly basis that could be as high as $600.
In an Official Information Act release to Crux, ALR said Mrs Stokes' contract via her company ZQN7 Ltd was “capped at 40 hours a week. This is not a minimum requirement”.
ALR went on to reveal that Mrs Stokes, who still lives in Queenstown with her husband and five children, was not required to be in their Auckland offices for any minimum number of hours, just “as required”. ALR also revealed that Mrs Stokes did not go through a tender or bid process for the work, even though their own procurement rules make it clear that such a process is required over $100,000. There was also no formal due diligence process, with ALR saying, “Conversations were held with several people for whom Ruth Stokes has been contracted to do work”.
Mrs Stokes did complete one major task while chief executive of the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce, facilitating a public (selected media only) promotional meeting for the controversial QLDC Lakeview project while business colleague Mr Robertson was writing a review of the Lakeview governance process that came down in support of council chief executive Mike Theelen maintaining exclusive solo control in spite of ratepayer losses that have since come close to $100 million.
However, Mrs Stokes was already working for Auckland City Council’s development agency Eke Panuku. She was hired in July 2021, while still working with the chamber, for some financial consultancy work with no bid process and payments so far of $125,775. The contract is due to end in December this year with a total value of $139,900. The Auckland Council’s database of suppliers also lists ZQN7 Ltd being paid $166,328 in 2018/2019 when Mrs Stokes and Ms Paterson were working on the QLDC’s $600,000 bylaw review.
ALR, in answer to Crux Official Information request questions, said that Mrs Stokes had been open about media coverage of her multiple projects and issued the following statement.
“When hiring a consultant, clients would not expect to be made aware of full details of other contracts. However, Ruth Stokes did inform ALR of the work she is doing with Taranaki Regional Council. ALR understands she is no longer doing any work for Hamilton City Council. To the best of ALR’s knowledge Ruth Stokes has complied with disclosure requirements.”
There was no mention in ALR’s response to the Eke Panuku contract or indeed to the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce work.
Mrs Stokes did not respond to Crux questions about the multiple contracts. The Queenstown Chamber of Commerce has also consistently refused to reveal how much Mrs Stokes was paid as part of her full-time salary, what her contract required or who made the decision to hire her.
Mrs Stokes banned Crux from belonging to the Chamber of Commerce in order to prevent us getting answers to those questions. That ban remains in place.
In a recent video made for Wakatipu High School students Mrs Stokes boasts that all of her consultancy work comes from "knowing people" - the very situation that procurement rules are designed to combat.