Len Brown accepts 'wet bus ticket' censure

SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 16:19 19/12/2013
Fairfax NZ

Auckland Mayor Len Brown faced his Council at the Town Hall today, as he accepted a censure by his Councillors.

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Auckland mayor Len Brown has "unreservedly" accepted a censure by councillors over his actions during a two year affair with a council advisory board member.

Brown was censured by his councillors at a meeting today and required to repay costs.

All councillors at a meeting at the Auckland Town Hall voted in favour of a resolution that censures the mayor for his behaviour during a two-year affair with Bevan Chuang.

The resolution also asked that Brown reimburse all remaining personal costs identified in a review by auditors EY (Ernst & Young), and make a contribution to the costs of that review. The review cost more than $100,000.

Brown was brief in his response.

He said: "I appreciate its been a long and challenging debate for you.

"I accept absolutely unreservedly your recommendations. I will endeavour to do everything within those."

A vote of no confidence, sought by a quarter of the councillors, was not allowed due to council standing orders. The vote, no matter the result, would not have had any binding effect on Brown. He would not have to resign.

A resolution that said councillors noted the mayor's apology and expression of contrition, and signalled the council's willingness to work with the mayor was also carried.

The debate was often heated and punctuated by persistent heckles from the public gallery.

Councillor Christine Fletcher said: "From a personal perspective . . . am I angry? You bet I am angry. Am I personally affronted. Yes I am.

"I am someone who has never voted for Len Brown. I don't think he is going to last . . his brand is tarnished."

However Fletcher said the councillors did not have the power to remove the mayor.

She said the most effective way to repay ratepayers was to get him to repay some of the cost of the review.

Councillor Cameron Brewer said he thought the auditor general should be brought in to deal with the issue of free hotel rooms and in particular those at SkyCity.

He said the mayor should be asked for "full and final disclosure" and should pay for at least some of the report costs.

"This reputation damage will only go on and on and on", he said.

Brewer said the situation was "reputational carnage" for the Auckland Council.

"A lot of people will see this as a telling off but in the end a wet bus ticket," he said.

Brewer said Brown would no longer have credibility in Wellington.

Councillor Denise Krumm called for Brown to resign.

She said this was a "classic case of the emperor has no clothes".

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"The mayor needs to acknowledge what everyone else is seeing," she said.

Councillor Linda Cooper said she was under no illusion that "we can make him resign".

"He has to make his own mind up." She said she had seen no contrition from the mayor.

Councillor Mike Lee said the resolution was: "The most severe chastisement of a fellow politician that one can give".

"I fear that whatever we can do, this bitterness and divisiveness . . . may be a permanent feature," he said.

Earlier deputy mayor Penny Hulse expressed sadness at the impact Brown's affair had on the Auckland "reputation that we have worked so hard to build".

Brown walked into the meeting this morning to both heckles and cheers from a full public gallery.

Hulse took over as chairwoman after a number of other matters, so councillors could discuss Brown's future.

Brown chose not to give a statement to the council, even though it was expected he would make an apology.

Hulse said the mayor showed "poor judgement" in not making declarations about free hotel rooms and upgrades as detailed in the EY report into his activities during the affair.

The report showed Brown did not misuse council resources during his affair but he made 1375 texts and calls to his mistress 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.

Hulse said: "The punishment needs to fit the crime.

"Natural justice and fair play are important but that doesn't mean in any way the mayor should not be censured." Councillors worked through the censure motion over five hours on Monday.

Hulse said this was "a huge issue for all of Auckland".

At today's meeting, councillors questioned council chief executive Doug McKay about some of the points in the review as well as the final cost of the report.

McKay confirmed Brown had some input into the terms of reference for the EY report.

Brewer asked if there was any material that could be damaging to the reputation of the mayor or the council but not reported on because of the narrow scope of reference or because parties threatened legal action.

McKay said it was not for him to "second guess" what was in the report. He said it was not his report.

"There was a wide body of information that was received," he said.

"This report has delivered in my view on the terms of reference at initiation."

McKay said the security guard who had caught Chuang and Brown together on council property had chosen not to speak to EY or the council.

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