Will they jump or get pushed?

by Peter Newport - May 27, 2022

Editorial/Analysis

Regardless of who becomes mayor and who gets elected as councillors in October’s local elections, there’s a very cold but invigorating wind of change blowing through the corridors of 10 Gorge Road – QLDC’s Queenstown HQ.

A lot of things there are broken – not least the necessary trust between residents and council. And let’s be clear, it is not a trust issue with the hundreds of hard-working council staff, it’s a lack of trust in their bosses, our council’s senior managers. 

The council’s own survey earlier this year put community satisfaction at an all-time, basement, in the gutter, off the scale low and our own Crux survey showed residents don’t trust QLDC's CEO and managers.

The community's level of trust on QLDC managers could hardly get any lower. Crux survey - August 2021.

QLDC CEO Mike Theelen and his team may not be given the chance to attempt a fix - and it's a big fix.

The catalogue of council failings reads like a bad novel. Misinformation, failure to follow their own financial rules, crossing the line between governance and management, taking sides against the ratepayers who pay their salaries on key issues such as tourism growth, financial transparency and property development. The list is long and shameful.

When a high court judge declares council leaders and even a mayor, as being engaged in “evasive and misleading” statements we know that there’s a problem – a serious problem.

But it gets worse. There’s not been one instance of mea culpa in all of this. No apology, no “we might have got this wrong”, no “whoops, that was a big mistake”. Nothing. Just the steady clunk of shovels digging an ever deeper and inescapable hole.

In fact, “shovel ready” has become a byword for near pointless and irrelevant projects that will make some people in the local construction industry rich, and the rest of us a little bit poorer.

  • An arterial route to nowhere except the deeply controversial Lakeview project that itself is a monument to vested interests and a small number of people getting richer, at our expense. Lakeview has in the short-term cost ratepayers more than $55 million instead of adding $42 million to the council’s coffers. All because of a gamble, with our money, that we did not agree to.
  • A Queenstown CBD that for an endless period has been dug up to add golden poles and paved areas that look remarkably similar to the paved areas that were there before.
  • A small army of consultants, sometimes former QLDC managers, hired for hundreds of thousands of ratepayer dollars when the procurement rules that should deliver accountability around their appointment get somehow forgotten, misunderstood, ignored or misinterpreted.

The list goes on.

But what makes this year’s election so exciting is that there is a chance here for a 100 percent reset. The whole house of cards may fall to the ground once somebody holds our council to account. After all, the mayor and councillors are the employers of the council managers. It really is that simple.

At the risk of labouring the house of cards analogy, it may only take one card to bring the whole thing crashing down. Just one card.

Crux has been using the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) for four years in a painfully long and difficult attempt to figure out how QLDC works and how they spend our money.

Wānaka residents have been especially critical of QLDC

It’s been a painful and long process because QLDC seem to be reluctant to give us answers to our questions. From a journalism point of view when an organisation seems to be evading questions it’s a sign that we as journalists need to keep digging and make sure we wake up every morning shovel-ready.

Stay tuned. It’s going to be quite a ride.

Crux looks forward to working with whoever becomes the newly elected council. We know that they’ll be on the side of the residents this time around, that’s what this year’s elections are sure to deliver. It is time. It’s what the people that live here, work hard, pay rates, raise families will demand.

The faces in that official post-election photograph might not be the only ones that change at 10 Gorge Road before the end of 2022.

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