Brown pays back council card spending

By Bernard Orsman

Len Brown. Photo / Janna Dixon
Len Brown. Photo / Janna Dixon

Manukau Mayor and Super City mayoral frontrunner Len Brown has admitted making personal purchases on his council credit card, including a $148 mini hi-fi system for a family event.

And he says another family event, a Christmas party at Auckland's Rendezvous Hotel, was booked on his council card.

However, Mr Brown says he cannot recall the details of a $115.27 grocery bill at Foodtown Takanini.

Last night, Mr Brown said he had reimbursed the council for the personal expenditure totalling $579.27. For the year to May, he ran up $10,864.98 in expenses on his mayoral credit card.

"I try and set the best examples on all fronts. I'm not going to be bulletproof and I don't set out to be perfect. I just set out to be my best and be accountable for it," Mr Brown said.

According to a weekend report, the council expenses include $1296 on Christmas hampers for business leaders and tabs at the Viaduct Restaurant & Bar and Volare Restaurant in Manurewa for $768 and $810 respectively.

Revelations about the personal use of his council credit card are a setback for the Super City candidate, who has shot to an 11.4 percentage point lead in a Herald-DigiPoll survey over his more experienced rival, Auckland City Mayor John Banks.

Yesterday, Manukau councillors and Citizens & Ratepayers candidates for the Super City, Dick Quax and Jami-Lee Ross, called for a full review of Mr Brown's credit card use.

"There is no excuse for him not to know that taking his wife to an upmarket hotel on the ratepayer tab, and buying the family groceries with a ratepayer-funded credit card, is wrong," his political opponents said.

Mr Brown said his credit card spending was signed off by finance director Dave Foster and audited every six months.

He said an "administrative mistake" led to the Rendezvous Hotel booking being charged to his council credit card instead of his personal one.

As well, when he bought the hi-fi system - it was "essential" to get it that day - he did not have his personal card with him.

Mr Brown could not recall the purchase of groceries at Foodtown Takanini, nor the event they were for, but accepted they were for personal use and reimbursed the council.

The spending row comes after National MP Phil Heatley stood down from the Cabinet after admitting he spent $1402 on his ministerial credit card, most of it for travel-related costs for his wife and children. He was reinstated after the Auditor-General found that while he spent taxpayers' money wrongly, he did not intentionally break the rules.

Mr Banks, the other heavyweight contender for the Super City mayoralty, did not want to comment directly on Mr Brown's credit card use.

"The people of Auckland are going to have to make some very big judgments quite soon about the person best qualified to lead the Super City and I pride myself on delivering affordable progress and being frugal with other people's money," he said.

Mr Banks said he had never had a credit card as mayor or when he was a National Party Cabinet minister.

"I just think they are such high risk and it leaves people open to temptation and abuse.

"In the context of the Super City, if I get a run at the top job I certainly won't have a credit card, nor will any other elected official."

Mr Banks said he had a mayoral account for hosting people and events at the Auckland Town Hall and a fuel card for personal use of the mayoral car, which he paid for through a reduction in his salary.

- NZ Herald

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