Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Brown not yet out of the woods

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Auckland mayor Len Brown.
Auckland mayor Len Brown.

Len Brown would be smart to quietly drop his "Mayor in the Chair" meet-the-people routine following the recent revelations. At least until the sleazy sideshow involving his accusers dies down, anyway.

We now read that Stephen Cook, author of the original expose on the Whale Oil blogsite, has plans for a pornodocumentary and tried to sign up Mr Brown's ex-mistress Bevan Chuang to play herself. She turned the $50,000 offer down. As of yesterday, anyway.

Earlier, Cameron "Whale Oil " Slater appeared on TV3's The Nation to declare "we're not playing tiddlywinks ... this is politics". He then revealed his profoundly cynical view of the world by arguing that Auckland politics, like all politics is "a dirty, disgusting, despicable game and it involves dirty, disgusting, despicable people at all levels".

Such a bitter and twisted view of the democratic process certainly doesn't match my long career of politician-watching, the vast majority of whom, on both sides of the political divide, seem driven by a wish to improve their communities.

Mr Slater's words do, however, sum up pretty accurately, the team of piranhas currently targeting Mr Brown. With enemies like them, the mayor's approval rating with potential voters can only improve.

The DigiPoll survey last week following the initial expose showed 51 per cent of Aucklanders thought he should stay on, while 39.5 per cent thought he should resign. Naturally enough, 62.7 per cent said cheating on his wife reflected badly on his character, but only 29.6 per cent thought it made him unfit for public office.

Though the public seems to be learning to live with a mayor with imperfections on the private front, it's possible another bout of potential humiliations lies ahead at city hall, thanks to the Code of Conduct requirements introduced by Alliance MP, and Minister of Local Government, Sandra Lee in the Local Government Act 2002.

This requires local authorities to have codes of conduct which not just cover statutory requirements relating to conflicts of interest, pecuniary interests and the like, but more airy-fairy stuff such as ethics, inter-relationships with each other, staff and the public and even dress codes.

Auckland councillors, for instance, have to be accountable and open to the public, but also not talk out of turn to their electors - or the media. Another tightrope to walk is clause 5.8 of Auckland's code entitled "respect" which requires councillors to treat their rivals "with respect at all times" which "means not using derogatory terms towards others, or about others ... ". Under leadership, mayor and councillors "should promote and support these principles by example". Critics of the mayor are homing in on the requirement that members "have a duty to act honestly and with integrity at all times". They also have a duty to "maintain public confidence in the office to which they have been elected".

Chief executive Doug McKay is still mulling over what sort of review will be carried out after the revelations, but Mr Brown's political enemies will no doubt be browsing the code for ways of embarrassing him further while, of course, still showing him the respect required under the code.

Breach of code complaints can be made not just by councillors, but by staff and members of the public. The chief executive has to create a list of suitable people "with appropriate skills and knowledge" to form a conduct review panel, to sit in judgment.

If a law is believed broken, the case is referred to the appropriate agency, but otherwise, the only sanction the panel has against a mayor is to recommend a course of action to the governing body. It is up to the politicians to then decide. They can vote to censure, to remove the elected member "from representative type bodies", or to dismiss "the elected member from a position as chair or deputy chair of a committee".

As one of the mayor's statutory functions is to chair the governing body and appoint committee chairs, it's hard to see how that would work.

Frankly, I've never liked the idea of a panel of unknown "experts", appointed by the unelected chief executive, sitting in judgment on the conduct of an elected official.

What checks on the panel's ethics, or political views are undertaken before their appointment?

This is a political stoush. We don't need a kangaroo court sitting in judgment on the mayor's morals. We need a council getting down to business on the issues we elected them on.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

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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