Voting begins in Arrowtown-Kawarau by-election

by Kim Bowden - Apr 13, 2023

People living in Arrowtown, Arthurs Point, Crown Terrace, Dalefield, Gibbston, Lake Hayes and Shotover Country can now have their say on who represents them around the council table as voting begins in the Arrowtown‐Kawarau Ward by‐election.

Two candidates are standing for the vacant position on the Queenstown Lakes District Council created by the resignation of councillor Neeta Shetty earlier this year.

They are Kinloch Lodge owner and Shaping Our Future coordinator John Glover and cake baker and decorator Melissa White.

Neither are strangers to an election - Ms White threw her hat in the ring last year, while Mr Glover stood unsuccessfully in 2013 and 2019.

"Third time lucky - that's a really bad by-election slogan," Mr Glover jokes.

At the election last year there were "a lot of really good candidates in the mix", and he was focused on work and Covid-recovery for his tourism business, but the by-election timing seems right for him, he says.

By-election candidate John Glover owns the lodge at Kinloch, but he's been living in a townhouse by Pak 'n Save in Frankton for 18 months.

Mr Glover lives in Frankton - he has a teenager still at school in Queenstown - and he works in community development.

"It's something I'm passionate about and lucky enough to do."

If voters elect him to council, though, he will need to take a step back from some of his Shaping Our Future work.

"The organisation is very importantly independent of council, so I wouldn't be able to continue with that public-facing role within the organisation."

It is his view the council has been too quiet on some big issues - growth, at the top of his list.

"The community hasn’t had that discussion – how much is enough?

“I see the pigeons coming home to roost now – whether it’s the traffic on Frankton Road or coming in from Cromwell each morning or these issues around housing, these are all things we brought on ourselves by growing very, very rapidly as a district." 

As a father, he has his own analogy.

“We’re a bit like a teenager - we’re out of balance, we’re not really organised, we’ve sort of got a messy floor or we don’t want to tidy the room - that’s where Queenstown is at.”

His work with Shaping Our Future has seen him help facilitate community-led development, and he thinks the current council can do better by community members.

"We often asked for quite simple things for our communities, but year in, year out we’ve been told 'No, they can't be done' or 'There’s no money' and then things will be funded that we've never asked for."

He says the figures on council satisfaction in the council's latest quality of life survey are "really damning".

"I don't think it's sufficient for the chief executive to just to say 'Oh well, people aren't happy with any form of government, so that's just what it is'. Actually, I think that's a bit of a broad brush response.”

He is realistic about progressing change as one voice around the table, but thinks he has the right skill set to "carry a majority" and make a difference.

"Being able to lead people...and encourage them around the council table is really, really important. To have the knowledge to ask the right questions call something out when it's actually not correct."

He says it is "depressing" that from the outside it can appear councillors on occasion are seen by council employees as "an unwanted nuisance".

"I don't think the council is being run in a way that allows the councillors to be effective in doing the job that they're elected to do...that has to change. It's absolutely outrageous, in my view, that councillors are required to do LGOIMA requests for information from the body that they're there to run. To me, that's a fundamental right, and with that right comes big responsibilities.

"That's why people have no faith in the organisation and are just, generally, disenfranchised from decision making."

Cake designer Melissa White says her frustrations as a small business owner dealing with the council are part of her motivation to run for a seat around the decision-making table. No point in just complaining, she says (Image: Facebook/Cherry Blossom Cakes).

Ms White's desire to step up and represent the community on the council comes from her own frustrations with dealing with the organisation, both as a small business owner and a resident.

There is what she sees as an "inflexibility" and lack of responsiveness in the system to help people get new businesses off the ground.

She also recalls adding her voice to the mix during a public consultation on a regulatory change, and never being kept updated on the final decision.

"I find that really disappointing...You ask people for their opinion, you let them come and speak as if you are listening to them, but then you don’t actually respond to them.

“The only reason I found out the outcome was, a couple of months later, I contacted them saying 'What’s happening here?' and they said 'Oh, we published that on our website'. But I mean, for me, that not quite good enough.

"So, that's where it all stemmed from originally. And I guess that interest just grew enough for me to want to do something about it rather than just complain."

She says she has experienced firsthand some of the challenges facing the district, and wants to bring that point of view to the council table.

"I just feel like, for a long time, councillors haven't necessarily represented, and I don’t know if this is the right word, everyday people. But that's what I feel that I am - I'm an everyday person. I want to represent people who have small businesses, young families, are experiencing housing issues."

Ms White lives with her two children in Lake Hayes Estate in a home delivered via the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust.

"I'm pretty sure no one on the council has ever been in that position."

She says she "definitely feels for the people" currently experiencing housing instability.

Professionally, there is a background in consultancy and HR, as she jokes about being asked "How does a cake decorator add value?". 

"I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have real life experience in Queenstown."

There are big discussions to come on growth, and development for it, and she has lived with some of the mistakes in the "older" new subdivisions, she says.

"I'd like to see them not repeated."

She knows she is not "going to be able to change the world overnight".

“You don’t automatically get on council and then as an individual get to make decisions. I guess what I’m hoping for is just to add a different view onto the council that will help give it a more rounded view than what it has done in the past.”

She has told voters she does not have "a set agenda" and prefers "to listen to our communities and work with council to create solutions".

Voting papers have been mailed out today to all residents and ratepayers enrolled in the ward.

Voting will close at midday on Friday, May 5.

Voters can post their completed ballot papers or drop off them off at the Arrowtown Library or council headquarters on Gorge Road in Queenstown.

QLDC electoral officer Jane Robertson says anyone eligible to vote but not on the electoral roll, or without voting papers, can make a special vote in-person at the council offices from tomorrow (Friday 14).

“It only takes a few minutes and our staff are on hand to guide people through the steps to cast a special vote,” she says.

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