Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Insulted councillors put Brown on a tight rein

Unprecedented censure leaves mayor with less power and more accountability

Mr Brown says he has seriously considered quitting, but after deep reflection will stay on to complete his vision and plan for Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell
Mr Brown says he has seriously considered quitting, but after deep reflection will stay on to complete his vision and plan for Auckland. Photo / Dean Purcell

Mayor Len Brown will forgo some executive powers as he sets out to rebuild his political career after a decision by councillors to keep him on.

A subdued Mr Brown yesterday accepted the unanimous decision by his colleagues to censure him with a warning from supporters Ross Clow and Chris Darby he would be on thin ice if any other skeletons came out of the cupboard.

Mr Brown gave an assurance there was nothing else out there and made a commitment to work closer with councillors on a common agenda in the new year.

Mr Brown will spend more time with councillors, give them more say in the development of the budget and major policies, and regularly report on the $4 million mayoral office budget to the finance committee.

Greater openness and transparency will not extend to Mr Brown paying back some or all of the $100,000-plus costs of the EY (Ernst & Young) report that found he failed to declare more than $39,000 in free hotel rooms and upgrades.

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This will be subject to "confidential but binding" negotiations between the mayor and a group of councillors.

Nor would Mr Brown say what changes had been made between the draft and final EY reports, which chief executive Doug McKay told councillors had occurred. Mr McKay also revealed Mr Brown had an input into the terms of reference for the review, which found he "did not inappropriately" use council resources to support his affair with Bevan Chuang.

The councillors' decision to censure the mayor was unanimous, but a group of five right-wing councillors - Cameron Brewer, Denise Krum, Linda Cooper, Dick Quax and Sharon Stewart - voted against a motion to keep working with the mayor in the best interests of Auckland.

The motion replaced a vote of no confidence in Mr Brown that the five had wanted, but was ruled out of order under standing orders.

Mr Quax, who has been calling on Mr Brown to resign all week, said the council could only move forward when the mayor was gone. "The sleaze from the first floor of this building is a rotting political corpse. That stench can be cleaned only when the mayor moves out," he said.

Said Cameron Brewer: "For the best interest of Auckland he now needs to go. That is what the people of Auckland are calling for and that's what I'm asking for."

But while the plans of the five clearly failed, Mr Brown was not let off the hook by the 15 councillors who decided to give him a lifeline and move on with running the Super City.

First-term councillor Chris Darby called the mayor's actions "totally inexcusable and an absolute embarrassment", while Mr Clow said people were upset at the mayor's sense of entitlement, recidivist behaviour and lack of contrition.

"Kiwis hate people having that sense of entitlement over anyone else," he said.

Mike Lee said the events of the past two months were unprecedented in his 21 years of local government, and left the council battered and bleeding.

He said the censure expressing "profound disappointment and disapproval" signalled the most severe chastisement of a fellow politician that could be given out.

In a blog written at the meeting, Metro editor Simon Wilson said if Mr Brown could not lead the council he needed to find the courage and grace to step aside. "He's reached that stage," wrote Mr Wilson, who said the subtext of the mayor's supporters was they no longer had confidence in him.

"Len Brown will soon be gone. It's hard to see him lasting past Christmas."

Mr Brown put on a strong - even contrite - appearance at a press conference, saying he had given serious consideration to resigning, but after deep reflection would stay on to complete his vision and plan for Auckland.

"This is a fair but very firm direction to myself and I have indicated to them I accept that is an appropriate direction ... This has been the most difficult time of my life."

Read more: Cameron Brewer admits not declaring Gold Coast junket

How the councillors voted

• All councillors voted to censure the mayor
• Five councillors voted not to continue working with the mayor


What the councillors voted on

That the Governing Body

A. Received the Independent Review commissioned by the Chief Executive - the EY report

B. Express its profound disappointment and disapproval of the Mayor's inappropriate conduct and undeclared conflicts of interest, which are the subject of the report and which have caused damaged to Auckland Council's reputation and widespread concern amongst the public.

C. Accordingly, censure the Mayor for his behaviour, that in the view of the Governing Body, breached the council's Code of Conduct.

D. Request that the Mayor make full reimbursement of all remaining personal costs and also make an appropriate contribution to other costs incurred by the Council.

E. Require a stronger working relationship and level of accountability between the Mayor and Governing Body.

F. Note the Mayor's apology and expression of contrition for his actions; and mindful of the importance of maintaining political stability and confidence in the governance of Auckland, signals its willingness to work with the Mayor in the best interest of the people of Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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