Mayor, CEO defend refusal to allow council Lakeview debate

by Kim Bowden - Jun 12, 2023

The mayor and chief executive of the Queenstown Lakes District Council are defending their refusal to allow a debate on Lakeview decision-making at this month’s full council meeting. 

This weekend councillor Niki Gladding revealed she was one of four councillors to put their name to a notice of motion asking for a review of whether some of the decisions on the billion-dollar CBD development should come to the councillor rather than the chief executive. 

But the request had a sense of déjà vu for mayor Glyn Lewers. 

The matter of how much involvement councillors have, or should have, on Lakeview decisions versus how much the council’s chief executive does, or should have, was considered as recently as July last year.

“When it came to this notice of motion, it was a repeat of the previous notice of motion.”

Mayor Glyn Lewers: 'If we keep re-litigating previous decisions from previous councils, this organisation would be stuck in the quagmire and nothing would get done.'

Mr Lewers says "nothing has materially changed for councillors to be concerned about" since that discussion, so he saw no reason to re-litigate it. 

"If we keep re-litigating previous decisions from previous councils, this organisation would be stuck in the quagmire and nothing would get done."

However he contacted Ms Gladding to suggest the notice of motion be put to, instead of a full council meeting, a meeting of the Audit, Finance and Risk Committee.

“They can report back to the full council meeting, so I wasn’t kicking it to touch, or anything like that, I wasn’t squashing it.” 

In his view, that was a better process.

Back in July, councillors voted to set up a structure via the Audit, Finance and Risk Committee to “strengthen the monitoring of…Lakeview stuff”, he says, off the back of a recommendation in the Bruce Robertson report and Ms Gladding’s previous notice of motion to review the chief executive’s delegation.

"I must admit, it's a bit disappointing - it's a second go at something that Councillor Gladding has brought in, off her first motion of notice, that she hasn't even given the chance to bed in."

The mayor says it is his view Councillor Gladding didn’t agree with last year's outcome, nor was she happy with his move to put the latest notice of motion to the subcommittee, which she queried with the chief executive.

This then kickstarted a process by which the chief executive sought two sets of legal advice, which ultimately instructed the mayor to reject the notice of motion outright, based on standing orders. 

“There was basically a list of reasons and I thought ‘Well, that’s a bit harsh’, but I followed the recommendations but I still said I would make sure it would go to the Audit, Finance and Risk Committee – the delegation discussion, not the notice of motion.”

The mayor says he will invite the three other signatories to the latest notice of motion to sit in on the committee discussion, so “they can hear first-hand about why it (the delegation of Lakeview decision-making to the chief executive) is put in place and if they have any further concerns we can chase that up”.

He says he spoke to two of the other councillors that signed the notice - “they’re new and they’re just getting up to speed with how things happen” – and provided them reassurance “cost decisions” are “still in the hands of councillors” and clued them up on how major design changes are dealt with internally – the main concerns they voiced to the mayor.

So, why two sets of legal advice, the bill for which the ratepayer will be footing? Mr Lewers says he understands one offered commercial expertise, the other, local government.

QLDC chief executive Mike Theelen says Ms Gladding’s notice of motion was received and considered under clear criteria for accepting, refusing or referring any notice of motion.

He made the decision to "seek appropriate expert legal, local government and commercial advice" due to the timing of the notice of motion and the need to respond to it as outlined by standing orders and the availability of staff to provide advice and recommendations, he says.

Mr Theelen is unable to disclose the costs for these services.

Like the mayor, he is confident in the process by which Lakeview decisions are being made.

In a written statement to Crux he says, "It is important context to note/reiterate that this is a long-term structured commercial transaction and the delegations were put in place by Council as the most effective way to deal with the details of the project implementation.

"They were reviewed less than 12 months ago and reaffirmed with some additional oversight by the Audit, Finance and Risk Committee.

"Where significant decisions have been required, such as material changes to the development agreement or the proposed end product, these have been workshopped in full with councillors to ensure that they are fully aware of matters arising and the proposed decisions made under the delegations."

Mr Lewers says he believes Mr Theelen has "an open door policy is happy to answer any questions" regarding the developer agreement or the commercial arrangements that Lakeview hinges on.

"It is just that tension where governance ends and management starts and some of the stuff that Councillor Gladding was asking for in the notice of motion were purely operational - I can say that positively."

The mayor remains confident Lakeview will achieve some of the community objectives the council set out with.

"It's not just financial but it's also invigorating the CBD and invigorating business...putting nearly a billion dollars of investment into the CBD plus a recognition of the community housing trust, with five percent of all land receipts going to them.

"And we've got to remember this is a 10 to 15 year project - It's not going to all happen with a click of the fingers."

Mr Theelen says the Lakeview delegation will now be on the agenda of next month's Audit, Finance and Risk Committee, allowing the matter to be publicly re-considered and councillors to form a view on the matter rather than the notice of motion, "which simply sought to change the delegation".

"Ensuring that the matter is briefed in a manner that allows for fully informed decision making, including input from the Audit, Finance and Risk Committee, in this instance, is a requirement of local government decision making and also applies to any decisions made via a notice of motion."

Main image: An architect's impression of the billion-dollar Lakeview complex set to be built on land in central Queenstown still, for now, owned by the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

Read more: Councillor questions 'pattern of obstruction' from QLDC staff on Lakeview

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