Rodney Hide: Len's gym a fitness test for council

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Len Brown was "very happy" with his ratepayer-provided gym gear. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Len Brown was "very happy" with his ratepayer-provided gym gear. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A council worker caught "borrowing" council gear for several years for his personal use would be sacked. I would also expect he would be charged. It's called theft.

He would have a good excuse if his manager gave permission. But the problem then is legal authority. The gear doesn't belong to his manager. It's not hers to loan.

And so we have the disturbing case of Mayor Len Brown's personal gym.

The Herald reports that within a month of Brown's swearing-in as Auckland's first Super-City Mayor, his chief of staff was on the scrounge for fitness gear.

I would expect his chief of staff to be advising Brown to buy his own gear. That's what paid political advisers do: they stop politicians doing stupid things.

But no, Phil Wilson emails the council's sport and recreation manager Ian Maxwell seeking used equipment from a council facility or a council supplier who could loan or sponsor it.

At least Wilson recognised the problem: "The sensitivity, though, is that we don't want to be seen to be spending any public money on him." But note that it's not the spending that's the problem: it's the spending being seen. The concern is to keep it secret.

I would expect Maxwell to email Wilson back explaining he would love to help but that he can't.

Instead Maxwell replies that he's on to it.

Wilson emails, "the almighty will be very pleased".

And so the council's leisure services "loan" the mayor a new treadmill worth $3000 and a gym system costing $2198.

But ratepayers don't fund the council's leisure services to provide mayoral gym gear. In fact, the money was taken out of the "fitness renewal budget".

That budget is not for kitting out a mayoral gym.

Wilson then had the opportunity to do the right thing and immediately return the gear. He didn't. He thanked Maxwell, saying he was not expecting new equipment, it looked great, and "Len is very happy".

I bet he was. He got the equipment. He didn't have to pay for it. And, best of all, it was done in such a way that he wasn't seen to be spending public money.

The purchase was kept off mayoral books by having it come through the council's leisure services out of the nondescript "fitness renewal budget".

Brown didn't declare the loan as a gift as required in the pecuniary register. The spending was made public by Herald reporter Bernard Orsman obtaining the emails under the Official Information Act.

So what happens now?

Well it's over to the councillors. It's their job to hold the Mayor and manager Ian Maxwell to account. Let's see how they do in this tawdry and sorry saga.

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