Matt Wong: Council debt 'wipeout' and the 'quagmire' of councillor-management relationships

by Peter Newport - Jun 21, 2024

First term councillor Matt Wong says that the financial hit on the Queenstown Lakes District Council from the recent leaky building settlement has been enough to “wipe us out”.

In an interview with Crux, as part of our new podcast series, Councillor Wong says the worst day so far for him was the day of the Oaks Shores apartments settlement. The terms are confidential, but Councillor Wong says it’s cost ratepayers more than $100 million.

“That debt put us on the back foot straight away. That was enough to wipe us out. It wipes out our choices and our options. If you think about your own personal finances, when you've got nothing, you don't have many choices. You know, when you've got nothing in the bank, you just have to do what it takes to survive.”

Councillor Wong expressed concern that QLDC spending has not adapted sufficiently to this very high level of debt and also that elected members are not able to effectively communicate with senior council executives.

“When elected members come in, there's actually zero support mechanism for us to go through the system, to learn how to how to be the most effective and the most efficient with our time and their energy.

“And so we're left in this sort of quagmire. You’ve got elected members on one side and the Executive Leadership Team, the council CEO and the middle management on the other side, and never shall they meet.

“It’s a real challenge to actually figure out how you work through the system. You've got your elected members that don't get fed the information we need so we have to go digging for it. Then we’re probably seen as nosey bodies, delving into the operational side rather than the governance, which is where we should be.

“And you've got on the other side the Executive Leadership team, the management who are constantly defending their position. So it's never going to be an environment where there's collaboration.”

Councillor Wong also talks about the frustrations of council bureaucracy and fundamental changes in the local community that he believes the QLDC has struggled to keep up with. 

This week's podcast also features a detailed discussion between Peter Newport and Kim Bowden on how an external and 'independent' report on the QLDC's  failure to properly manage the arterial roading alliance went through six cycles of changes by council managers before being released to the public. What did the original, still secret, report say that was so damaging and so important to hide?

Please subscribe (free or paid) on Substack to access the podcast series, including last week's feature interview with councillor Cody Tucker.

Our podcast series is on Substack as well as Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Episode 3. Matt Wong and top stories

Episode 4. Matt Wong - full interview.




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