Councillors in talks over mayor

TONY WALL
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2013

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Secret talks are being held this weekend among Auckland councillors who say the city has been "humiliated" by the Len Brown affair and want the wayward mayor censured and his powers reined in.

The Sunday Star-Times understands a cross-party group of councillors has taken legal advice over what measures can be taken to censure Brown and to bring greater oversight to the mayoral office.

A motion expressing councillors' disgust in Brown's behaviour is expected to be tabled tomorrow or Tuesday. And moves are afoot to establish an oversight committee to conduct a regular overview of issues involving the mayor and councillors.

"We have committees for Africa, but we don't have a committee for oversight of ourselves," a councillor speaking on the condition of anonymity said.

The developments follow a damning Ernst and Young (EY) report which found Brown made 1375 calls and texts to his mistress, Bevan Chuang, and failed to declare more than $39,000 in free hotel rooms and upgrades, as well as an NRL Grand Final ticket and an iPad.

However, the report found Brown did not inappropriately use council resources during his affair with Chuang. Brown was critical of the investigation, saying he and his wife, Shan Inglis, had laid everything on the table for the auditors - including their personal expenditure records.

"It was well outside what was originally intended. We didn't think it would have gone into that type of detail," he said, insisting he was not a lame duck mayor and would stay in the job.

But the Star-Times understands there is serious discontent with Brown and the EY report across party lines.

Some councillors who had been prepared to continue working with Brown for the benefit of Auckland were stunned by his lack of contrition after the report was released and believe some form of formal censure needs to be handed down. "There is an arrogance and a sense of entitlement there," the councillor said.

A group of councillors from both sides of the political fence asked council chief executive Doug McKay on Friday to prepare "as full a suite of measures as possible" that would allow action to be taken against Brown under standing orders or statute.

McKay is expected to report back tomorrow.

Some councillors believe an oversight committee would keep a check on Brown's powers. Unlike other mayors around the country, he has executive powers that extend to control of the council's budget and governance, introduced with the Super City. "There's no oversight there at all - it's gone from the sublime to the ridiculous," the councillor said.

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"Ideally the Government should be stepping in. Some of us are humiliated by what is happening to Auckland's reputation and we want to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Aaron Bhatnagar, a councillor from 2007 to 2010 on the Citizens and Ratepayers ticket, said Brown had to go.

"The repeated incidences involving Len Brown both as a Manukau mayor when he was buying the Christmas hams and morning cups of coffee on the ratepayer, now coupled with what we've learned from the Ernst and Young report I think shows there's a pattern of irresponsibility when it comes to [Brown's] expenses, perks and patronage."

Bhatnagar agreed the executive powers invested in the Auckland mayor needed to be revisited.

"It was designed to have a strong, singular, effective voice, but Len's bad behaviour shows we have to find some counter-balances to that."

- Sunday Star Times

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