QLDC’s $CE0,000 gets pay rise

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) will now earn almost ten times the average wage for the region and $100,000 more than some of his local council counterparts.

Mike Theelen’s new salary is $336,000 a year, a result of his $21,000 pay rise, the largest increase received by any council boss in Otago this year. It has boosted his wage by seven percent, four times the rate of inflation and four times the average percentage rise New Zealanders have received in the last year.

Mike Theelen. (Supplied)

It means that Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) ratepayers on average will spend $13.81 a year on his salary alone.

Mr Theelen’s new wage means he will be paid around $100,000 more than the CEOs of two other Otago councils and puts him more than $30,000 ahead of the Otago Regional Council’s (ORC) CEO.

The latest figures available show Steve Hill, CEO of Clutha District Council, earns $239,147 (last pay rise: $996) and Leanne Mash, CEO of Central Otago District Council, is paid $231,000 (last pay rise: $4464). Peter Bodeker, Otago Regional Council’s CEO, receives $305,656 (last pay rise: $6416).

Only Dr Sue Bidrose, CEO of Dunedin City Council, the fifth largest council in the country with four times the population of the QLDC, earns more with a total package of $371,800 (last pay rise: $19,130).

When announcing Mr Theelen’s new salary, QLDC declined to say that it was increasing and by how much. After extensive questioning from the Wanaka Sun, the council has also refused to explain any specifics behind the decision.

Mayor Jim Boult said, “It’s a big job and on many levels coping with metro-sized issues, and for that reason we wanted to ensure that the remuneration package was commensurate with equivalent-growth councils of a similar scale.”

When asked direct questions about the inflation-busting rise to 9.5 times the average QLDC wage and why it was so high, the Mayor’s office declined to comment further. The Wanaka Sun also repeatedly asked what specifically was meant by “commensurate with equivalent growth councils of a similar scale” and why there was such disparity between the salaries of Mr Theelen and other council CEOs, but again QLDC refused to provide details.

QLDC also declined to provide any reasons for Mr Theelen’s jump from the 15th best paid council CEO in New Zealand to the eighth, other than again referring to “unprecedented challenges associated with growth” and Mr Theelen’s apparent “strong performance”, whilst declining to provide any evidence for either claim.

QLDC’s announcement of Mr Theelen’s salary also saw his contract extended from three years to five.

Mayor Boult said, “Given the growth issues the district is currently grappling with, Council consider a period of solidarity is required at management level. In the interests of investing in the consolidation of an organisation in significant delivery mode it was an easy decision to take.”

Despite describing the decision as “easy”, QLDC has repeatedly failed to provide any evidence behind the claims of “growth issues” when asked and has continually refused to explain why, in apparently challenging times, a substantial pay increase has been awarded to a CEO just halfway through a three year contract.

Mr Theelen will now be CEO until at least February 2021, by which time the Wanaka Sun hopes the council will explain how he’s come to be paid so much, why he has received such an increase and when they will provide the evidence to support any of their claims.

In the wake of the QLDC announcement, the Wanaka Sun took to the streets to ask the community what it thought of Mike Theelen's new salary. No one we asked knew how much it was.

Question: What do you think of the CEO of QLDC now earning $336,000 a year?

Rob: "It seems a bit excessive. I think we pay a fair amount in rates.

Denise: "No one else has had even a CPI pay rise for a long time. Maybe it's a little too much, but as long as he earns it, fair enough."

Annie: "It's a hell of a lot of money. QLDC could be more transparent. How do they justify it?"

Matt: “What's the justification? There would have to be some reasoning behind it, or it's an injustice.”

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