Far North District councillors have declined a request from 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 the March 3-6 conference, as the Northland Mining Group's representative, at $9000, which he had proposed splitting equally between himself, the council and business development group Northland Inc.
The request was debated on Thursday'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 five per cent stake.
It was revelations of a business card Mr Brown had had printed that swung the debate against him, however. The card 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 reject 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. He had been the only member of the New Zealand delegation who had been promoting Northland at last year's conference, he added.
In Taranaki the petroleum and minerals industry had created 7500 jobs paying more than $100,000 a year; 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.
Cr Tracy Dalton said the Far North could not afford to miss any chance to promote business or create jobs, especially with so many leaving for mining jobs in Australia, but Cr 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.
Cr Monty Knight saw Mr Brown as 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?" he asked.
Cr Mate Radich agreed that Mr Brown had more knowledge of mining than anyone else in the room, and that if mining became established that would be "huge" for the Far North. He did not believe the average ratepayer would be worried about $3000.
"I think he's been reasonably upfront, and he does have a point about representing Northland, but for the sake of $3000 it's a bad look," Cr Di Maxwell said.
Cr Court agreed that 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.
"I don't think there's been any intention to deceive, but his enthusiasm and business acumen have introduced shades of grey for us," she said.
A business card too far - page 6.