QLDC opts to retain single law firm

Legal services for the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) will continue to be delivered by a single law firm when the council's contract with Macalister Todd Phillips (MacTodd) expires in August 2010.

Expressions of interest will be called in September.

Tenders will be presented at the November council meeting and the new contract will be negotiated and awarded in December, the council decided this week.

All councillors, with the exception of Cr Vanessa van Uden, voted during the full council meeting on Tuesday to continue with a single law firm.

A report submitted by regulatory and corporate services general manager Roger Taylor revealed legal services from MacTodd cost $1.4 million in the 2008-09 year.

This was up from $1.1 million in 2007-08 and $1.3 million in 2006-07.

Mr Taylor's report analysed alternative methods for legal services, from an in-house counsel or a full in-house legal team to a single contract with one firm or several contracts with specialist firms.

Queenstown lawyer Bryce Whiting spoke during the public forum at this week's council meeting.

The QLDC had instructed Dr Royden Somerville QC to investigate his concerns about the council's process of settling plan change 10 appeals in late March.

Mr Whiting said he thought the report would contain some comments by Dr Somerville in response to his concerns about potential conflicts of interest the council's solicitors had on advising one of the appeals Mr Whiting was a party to.

Mr Whiting said during the forum he had not seen the report but understood a draft had been given to QLDC chief executive Duncan Field and a final copy would be available in September.

Mr Whiting asked councillors to leave the legal services matter on the table so that they could consider Dr Somerville's report, before approving the method of providing legal services as recommended by Mr Taylor.

When the meeting came to discussing the legal services item, Queenstown Lakes Mayor Clive Geddes said he understood Dr Somerville's report would address the potential conflict of interest.

However, the focus instead had been on how the QLDC had notified parties in the mediation process.

Mr Field said the report did not deal with conflicts of interest.

He described an in-house legal operation as "high-risk" and expensive.

About 80% of MacTodd's work for the council had been on planning matters and had been above reproach, he said.

Cr van Uden said she was not discomforted by either an in-house or external legal service, but wanted to wait until Dr Somerville's report was tabled to see if the council's solicitor's "Chinese walls are enough to prevent conflicts of interest".


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