Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Hamilton mayor's $1257 office chair on ratepayers

Julie Hardaker. Photo / Christine Cornege
Julie Hardaker. Photo / Christine Cornege

A bill of about $91,000 from Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker's office last year has shocked some city councillors who are questioning why ratepayers should be paying for a Koru Club membership and $1257 for a new mayoral office chair.

The 2011 expense list, released to the Herald yesterday, runs to almost six pages of which the majority is made up of the cost of running the mayoral office and holding civic events, including local government meetings and conferences to Wellington, citizenship ceremonies, funding for the civic awards, kohas, catering for official events and last year's Anzac Day.

But other items have attracted criticism, including $994.78 on an Air New Zealand Koru Club membership, $1958 on mayoral stationery and $2000 on print ads promoting her Mayor in the Square events.

Ms Hardaker last night defended the spend saying she had done an "exceptional job" of running the office in a "frugal and cost-efficient" manner and she had scaled back historic spending in some areas.

"I think I've done an exceptional job of managing that budget. It's under budget. For the first time, as I understand it, I'm a mayor that has not claimed any personal expenses in carrying out that job."

Both the mayor's office and civic functions were a key role of the council and they were done well within cost, she said.

But some city councillors were shocked by some of the figures and questioned why ratepayers were paying for perks like Koru Club memberships or luxury office chairs.

Councillor Ewan Wilson said it was inappropriate for ratepayers to be coughing up for a membership to an airport lounge when the mayor earned enough to pay it herself.

The mayor earns $144,100 a year, Remuneration Authority figures show.

Mr Wilson said the Mayor in the Square event was "blatant self promotion" and was unnecessary when she was able to use the City News as a communication tool. "She's clearly enjoying the baubles of office," Mr Wilson said.

Councillor Angela O'Leary was also "surprised" at some of the luxury items on the list because it came at a time when the council was operating in tough financial conditions and looking to save money. She said councillors would not get away with some of the purchases the mayor had made.

She questioned the mayor spending $1250 on a new office chair after the council was put under the spotlight for buying new council chairs for the chamber for $715 each.

However, Ms Hardaker defended each spend. She acknowledged the Koru Club membership was a "sensitive issue" but said it enabled her to have conversations with other mayors, politicians and corporates which led to new opportunities while she was there.

And the mayoral chair was ordered because she could "not sit properly" in the old one because it was designed for a man. She had been unaware of the cost of the new one. "I just tried some chairs and that one looked good."

The floral arrangements for the mayoral reception lounge cost the city $950 until Mrs Hardaker scrapped them in October when the contract ended.

Meanwhile, the cost of hosting civic events was approved by a staff member and not her, and represented a large part of the mayor's office budget.

Hamilton Citizens and Ratepayers Association president John Easto said the costs were "quite staggering". "It's a bloody expensive position. I don't think it's justifiable, some of those costs. A Koru Club membership is fairly normal for senior managers at corporates but the other things I have real problems with - pretty flowers and things."

Auckland Mayor Len Brown last week came under criticism from members of his council for spending $3.2 million in his first 12 months of office.

- NZ Herald

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