Far North District councillors have turned down a request by Mayor Wayne Brown for $3000 to travel to Canada to promote the district at the world's biggest mining conference.
Mr Brown put the cost of attending next month's conference as the Northland Mining Group's representative at $9000, which he had proposed splitting three ways between himself, the council and business development group Northland Inc.
The request was debated at yesterday's meeting in Kaikohe, with councillors torn between wanting to send the best-qualified person to the conference, promoting investment in the North and avoiding a conflict of interest - especially as Mr Brown has recently set up a prospecting company, Tai Tokerau Minerals, in which he has a 5 per cent stake.
However, revelations of a business card Mr Brown had had printed for the conference swung the debate against him. The card, printed via the council, named him as mayor but gave his private contact details instead of the council's. The vote was locked four-all when Deputy Mayor Ann Court used her casting vote to knock back the proposal.
Before he had to leave the chamber, Mr Brown told councillors an interest in mining did not amount to a conflict of interest. The government, not councils, issued prospecting licences and any mining was at least five years away, so he could not profit personally from the conference.
At last year's conference he was the only member of the New Zealand delegation promoting Northland, he said.
In Taranaki the petroleum and minerals industry had created 7500 jobs paying more than $100,000; just 1000 jobs like that in Kaitaia would transform the Far North.
Mr Brown said he had been prompted to take a small stake in a mining company after would-be investors from China asked him why he wasn't investing if the prospects in Northland were as good as he made out.
Tracy Dalton said the Far North could not afford to miss any chance to promote business or create jobs, especially with so many people leaving for mining jobs in Australia.
Tom Baker said the public would see a conflict of interest, whether that was true or not. The timing of Mr Brown's company had put the council in an awkward situation.
Monty Knight said Mr Brown was the best-qualified person to fly the flag for the Far North.
''Would you seek out someone who has no knowledge of the industry to sell our case at the conference? Wayne is controversial, but who else is going to represent us?''
Cr Knight said the mayor had been upfront by declaring his company in the council's interests register. If he was devious he would have waited until after the conference or given the company a name unrelated to mining.
Cr Court said no one was more passionate about mining and putting Northland on the map than Mr Brown, but the matter of the business card had blurred the lines between his council role and his private interests. The Auditor General had made it clear that public officials could not profit from their positions, she said.
''I don't think there's been any intention to deceive but his enthusiasm and business acumen has introduced shades of grey for us.''
The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada Conference is being held in Toronto on March 3-6.