Judgment Day stalks the ghost of Mr Brown

COLIN ESPINER
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2013
Len Brown
PETER MEECHAM/ FairfaxNZ
UNDER FIRE: Len Brown.

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OPINION: The bruised and battered corpse of Len Brown's credibility was dragged into the Auckland Council chamber yesterday and given a damned good public thrashing.

He was labelled a cheat and a liar, a fornicator and a deceitful sleaze-merchant. A grubby, two-timing, duplicitous philanderer who had lost all credibility, trust and respect. And that was by his fellow councillors. A woman in a cowboy hat in the public gallery said much worse.

So did other protesters who heckled and harangued throughout yesterday's censure vote.

The noise level at times drowned out the meeting's acting chairwoman, deputy mayor Penny Hulse, who struggled to maintain order.

After giving up trying to quieten the protesters, Hulse tried a different tack: "Could we at least just have one interjection at a time?"

The anger in the room was palpable. Many were out for blood.

Even Hulse, a long-time Brown confidante, said she was "angry, disappointed and worn out". Some councillors spoke in favour of the move to censure Brown. Some wanted a motion of no-confidence. A few seemed to think he should - or could - be sacked. Everyone wanted him to pay, financially if nothing else.

Nobody spoke in his favour.

After three hours of heated argument, Brown was duly censured.

A committee was formed to discuss further how much of the costs of the inquiry into his conduct the mayor would be required to pay.

And then Brown - or perhaps it was his ghost - stood up, resumed his seat, and, a little paler than before, carried on.

Next item of business: heritage building preservation under the new unitary plan.

The moment was a striking symbol of both the Auckland mayor's dogged determination to stay in the top job and the council's inability to do anything about it.

A motion of censure is serious.

Council officials could not remember it ever happening, either in Auckland or elsewhere, in recent local body political history at least.

But as the sun rises over the country's largest city this morning, Len Brown is still in charge - and will remain so for the next three years unless he voluntarily stands down. He shows no signs of doing so, despite the increasing political, public and commentator clamour.

Mr Brown has made up his mind that he is staying. You have to give him points for determination, if little else.

The Auckland Council could have passed a motion of no confidence in the mayor. That is what councillors Dick Quax and Cameron Brewer wanted it to do. But in the end only five of the 20 supported such an action.

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As long-time councillor Mike Lee pointed out, all that would do is tell the rest of New Zealand that their biggest city was officially dysfunctional.

Instead, the council extended an olive branch to Brown, if an extremely slender one; an opportunity to win back their trust and respect. Whether he deserves it is a moot point - the decision was as much an admission that their hands are tied.

Everyone in that humid council room wanted to move on, to put "this whole sorry, tawdry and rather pathetic scandal behind us" as one new councillor put it. But it is going to be easier said than done.

Brown's enemies are emboldened and even his best friends are fed up with him. There is still the whole matter of how much he repays ratepayers to sort out.

And the jeers and boos that now seem to accompany him everywhere he goes in public just seem to get louder.

The Brown affair and its aftermath has exposed an ugliness in the Auckland body politic that is not going to go away overnight.

Even if he has the best of intentions, the mayor appears not to see that. Or to realise that it is largely his fault.

Yesterday was billed by some media as "Judgment Day" for Brown. But it wasn't really. That day has yet to come. 

- Fairfax Media

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