Council complaint prompts probe

External investigators probed the private business affairs of an executive within the Auckland Council structure after a complaint from a member of the public.

Sunday Star-Times has decided not to name the executive at this time or the part of the council structure he works for, but understands that documents pertaining to the claim have been sent to the mayor, the head of one of the council controlled entities, councillor Christine Fletcher, the Ministry of Justice, a number of media organisations and also transparency activists.

Several weeks ago the Star-Times reported that mayor Len Brown had ordered work to begin on a public register of the commercial interests of councillors to bring it into line with other councils such as Wellington, Tauranga and Christchurch.

As a result of that story, the paper received a copy of letters sent to the mayor and Fletcher, concerning the investigation conducted by law firm Simpson Grierson, Fletcher said.

The letters claimed the executive had commercial interests that were obscured through use of a false name, and they criticised the council investigation, which the council confirmed had covered only the period since the creation of the super-city, while knowing the allegations pertain to a period of time before that.

"I believe the investigation by your council covered only the past two to three years," the letter says, going on to say the timeframe was "unusual" given the allegations.

"Your reported drive for transparency should apply equally to senior executives as it does to councillors," the letter said.

The council confirmed the timeframe covered, and also said it would not release the report to this paper despite its having found "no contractual or commercial activity by or with the entities that were subject to the accusations" during the period the investigation covered.

And it went on to say: "We have been advised that the withholding of the full report is necessary to protect the privacy of individuals, and also to prevent the risk of any unreasonable prejudice to the position of the parties."

Brown told the Star-Times in a statement that he had "been given an assurance an independent investigation was undertaken that looked at available information, including historical documentation."

The statement continued: "It is improper for the mayor to get involved in employment issues and he cannot comment further."

Transparency campaigner Penny Bright says the case raises the issue of senior managers' commercial interests.

Bright believes that just as the commercial interests of councillors should be available for scrutiny through a public register, senior executives's interests should also be made public as a condition of their employment.

Bright has asked for the register of interests to be given to her under the Local Government Official Information Act, but was refused.

Sunday Star Times