CEO happy to stay the distance

Queenstown Lakes District Council's chief executive Adam Feeley. Photo by Christina McDonald.
Queenstown Lakes District Council's chief executive Adam Feeley. Photo by Christina McDonald.
A year after he took over the chief executive's role at the Queenstown Lakes District Council, Adam Feeley jokes that he is not expecting Christmas cards from everyone in the district.

When asked what he is most proud of achieving in his first year, the chief executive says ''surviving'' with a knowing laugh, before elaborating.

''When you look back on the year, we have amalgamated two CCOs [council-controlled organisations], we have had an organisational review in which 100 odd staff have been made redundant, we have had an election and 50% of the councillors were replaced.

''Just surviving in itself is an achievement.''

Mr Feeley came to the council in October 2012 to replace former chief executive Debra Lawson, who resigned.

He left his role heading the Serious Fraud Office less than three years into a five-year contract to take up the senior management role at the council in one of New Zealand's fastest-growing districts.

After a week in the job, he sat in his office, with his mountain bike leaning against a bookcase, and told the Otago Daily Times learning about what the council does day to day was eye-opening.

A year on he is still bringing the mountain bike in and this time he makes the Christmas card reference - ''but that's part of the job'' - before going on to discuss the controversial organisational review in which the council slimmed down to 195 fulltime equivalent positions from 265.

''It's not easy making tough decisions. It's not easy saying `this part of the organisation is going to go from 10 to five people'.''

The review and the resulting job losses were the consequence of ''some poor decision-making over the last five to 10 years'', in which resources had been allowed to ''creep upward'' and relationships between council and some of the people or companies it dealt with could be described as ''cosy''.`Starting to challenge those relationships doesn't make you popular.''

He said the council was going through the process of re-tendering for its professional services, for example banks and lawyers, for price and quality.

''It's my money I'm spending because I'm a ratepayer, but it's also everyone else's money, too. You have got to treat it as your own money so if that means 'sorry you're not doing a good enough job', then so be it.''

The cost of running the district was rising and the two options available were either to increase rates or attract more ratepayers.

''There are huge challenges facing us. Our infrastructure is relatively fragile, given the pressures placed on it, and we will either fund this by reducing costs or increasing revenue.''

He was keen to attract more economic growth to Queenstown Lakes - this could mean children might stay in the towns if there were more opportunities.

He said that to do this, out-of-town economists could hold the answer, and defended accepting advice from out of towners: ''it's incredibly parochial to say you can't learn from some of the best minds in the country''.

The organisational review, led by former Local Government NZ and Auckland Regional Council chief executive Peter Winder, began in February and is now complete. Mr Feeley said change could very well be occurring each year at the council, though it was unlikely to be at this year's level.

Although a ''very reluctant planner'', Mr Feeley said he had no intention of leaving ''any time soon''.

''I spent 30 years planning to come here. I'm not going to leave after 30 minutes.''