Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Len's tell-all more fizzle than sizzle

Mayor's long-promised peek into our city leaders' private lives offers giggles but little else for gossip hounds.

Mayor Len Brown decides his work of creating the world's most liveable city is finally done, says Rudman. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Mayor Len Brown decides his work of creating the world's most liveable city is finally done, says Rudman. Photo / Sarah Ivey

When Mayor Len Brown decides his work of creating the world's most liveable city is finally done and starts casting around for a new career, could I suggest he strike gossip columnist off the list of possibilities.

For more than six months he's been dangling the promise of a register of pecuniary interests of councillors and local board members before our eyes. A tell-all confessional for our elected representatives so they can reveal what they get up to in their private lives. Well, the "commercial" side of their non-council lives at least.

All, we're told, in the interests of greater transparency, and to strengthen public confidence in local government.

The cynic in me says it does neither of the above. If there are any crooks in local government, are they likely to confess in a public register their conflicts of interest?

On the other hand, as every newspaper editor knows, we all love a prurient sneak into other people's lives, particularly those of our politicians and "personalities". So I was rather guiltily looking forward to unearthing the odd titillating snippet in Auckland Council's new register, which has quietly popped up on the council's website. What a let-down.

Given it was the mayor's special project, it would have been decent of him to start the ball rolling with something just a little eye-opening. A complimentary night out at the casino perhaps, or a freebie during the Rugby World Cup. No such luck.

His online declaration contains just three facts. He has a property - size and value unspecified - in the Howick Local Board district, his only financial asset is a retail bank account and his occupation is mayor.

Otherwise, zilch. His deputy, Penny Hulse, does a little better, with two properties, one in Swanson and another in Leigh, a retail bank account and long lists of organisations she's either a trustee or patron of - Swanson Railway Station Trust, Waitakere Brass Band, Waitakere Anti-Violence Essential Services and the like.

Still, the mayor and his deputy's efforts prove to be almost titillating compared with the first councillor on the list, Ann Hartley from North Shore, who has no property, no financial assets, no banker, nothing. All she's declared is that she is employed as a councillor, which is, dare I say, rather self-evident.

Alongside Ms Hartley, her fellow North Shore councillor George Wood is positively gushing. He has a Forrest Hill property and two retail bank accounts, and confesses to being both a Mason and a Rotarian.

Now there was a time when the men with funny handshakes were rumoured to run the city and the police force and who knows what else. By those who weren't Masons of course. Maybe by those who were as well. But that was long ago. These days, being a Mason is seen as something quaint, more likely to raise a giggle than an eyebrow.

Of the other entries, the only novelty was discovering the only real participant in the capitalist sharemarket was not from the leafy suburbs of Remuera or Orakei, but the died-in-the wool Labour man from Onehunga, Richard Northey.

His portfolio includes shares from Infratil, Mainfreight, Contact Energy, Fletcher Building, The Warehouse Group and several others.

He bravely confesses to holdings in Nathan Finance - which went down the gurgler in 2007 owing around $170 million.

Mr Northey has also entered into the spirit of the exercise, listing a large number of memberships, everything from chairman of the Peace Foundation to membership of Auckland Astronomical Society. He's also admitted to a total of five "gift" tickets to various Rugby World Cup matches.

Maybe there'll be more participants in the sharemarket among the 11 of the 20 councillors whose declarations are yet to appear.

The declarations of the third of the 148 local board members whose reports are online are similarly unexciting.

As clubs go, perhaps the most unusual was Howick Local Board deputy chairwoman Lucy Schwaner's revelation that she is a member of the Fingerprint Society. Though understandable given her day job as a forensic analyst for the police.

As for wanting to know more, the most intriguing entry was from the anonymous local board member from Franklin who confessed to being a chimney sweep and member of the Conservative Party.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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