Councillor: Mayoral inquiry bill huge

COLIN ESPINER AND SARAH HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 22/12/2013

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Auckland ratepayers could face a bill of up to $250,000 once all the costs of the inquiry into Mayor Len Brown's behaviour during his affair with Bevan Chuang are finalised, one councillor says.

Brown was censured by councillors at a meeting at the city's town hall on Thursday and accepted a request that he contribute to the EY (Ernst & Young) review of his behaviour during his affair with Chuang.

It is not known what the final cost of the review will be but council chief executive Doug McKay said it was likely to be "considerably more" than the original budget of $100,000. That budget was based on a four-week timeframe - but the review took seven weeks.

McKay also revealed the council was likely to have to pay for the advice and assistance it requested from the Office of the Auditor-General.

Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer, who tried to move a motion of no-confidence in Brown at Thursday's meeting, said the cost to ratepayers of the inquiry and all the legal, public relations and other professional advice that went with it would be substantially higher than the public had been told.

"I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up being a bill of close to a quarter of a million dollars."

Brewer said he did not think ratepayers would see much of this back from the Mayor.

Brown has agreed to pay for personal costs highlighted in the review, including personal phone calls and texts made to Chuang from his council phone. He also agreed to make an "appropriate" contribution to other costs incurred by the council.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse will pull together a group of senior councillors to meet Brown to negotiate on the amount he will pay.

But Brewer said he was concerned that Brown would use his power and legal experience to push back against any suggestion he make a substantial contribution. "He will try every trick in the book . . . I think he will make as minimal a contribution as is humanly possible. He will try and wriggle out of this."

University of Otago politics lecturer Bryce Edwards said it was highly unusual for the subject of an inquiry to be asked to pay for it: "I have never seen anything like it."

Other political figures who faced reviews into their activities this year included UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne, who was not asked to make a contribution towards the $42,000 cost of the David Henry inquiry into who leaked the Kitteridge Report on the GCSB, and Labour's Phil Goff, who labelled the $510,000 Rebstock inquiry into MFAT leaks to him "a waste of money".

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Edwards said the council was searching for a penalty to impose on Brown because it had few other cards to play.

If the situation set a precedent for future political reviews, that "might not be appropriate", he said.

"It is searching around for anything that can in some way be seen as a punishment. Whether it's appropriate or not it's hard to say, but certainly it's one that will resonate with the public because it's seen as him paying a fine, essentially, and him being hurt personally for his misdeeds."

Edwards said he expected there would be a public mood for a more democratic way of dealing with elected officials "when they do something wrong".

Brewer agreed the council was seeking to inflict a penalty on Brown. "This is really the only way that councillors can inflict a blow that will hurt him."

He said if the mayor did not have the funds at his disposal to reimburse ratepayers, the money should be deducted from his $250,000 salary.

Brewer said he did not believe Brown should pay for the whole cost of the report. "But I think he should pay a substantial part."

Brewer said the matter was unlikely to be resolved until at least March next year.

- Sunday Star Times

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