Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Brown sets focus on the long haul

Len Brown has hinted at seeking a third Super City mayoral term in 2016, saying the factors that will guide him are the support of his wife, Shan Inglis, and maintaining his love and passion for the city.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Herald, the embattled mayor spoke about the family love that is keeping him in the job and his determination to fix the wrongs of last year and be a better and more humble mayor.

Mr Brown acknowledged receiving mixed views over the Christmas holiday - which he spent in Auckland and Mt Maunganui with Ms Inglis and their three daughters - over the sex scandal and censure by councillors that have undermined his authority and city governance.

Read more:
Len Brown: Six strategies for 2014

Asked whether he would seek a third term in 2016, Mr Brown said "There are two things that would determine my view in terms of the role that I have here.

The first is that my family support me and the second is that so long as I maintain my love and my passion for our city and our people - and I do, I love this place and I love our people in the very best and the worst of times - then I would do the job."

Video - Len Brown: Will you stand again?

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Mr Brown said talks had started with councillors about making a financial contribution to the $200,000-plus cost of the EY (Ernst & Young) report that found he failed to declare hotel stays, but refused to say if the decision would be made public.

The mayor also discussed plans for making a start on the $2.86 billion city rail link by 2016, but is putting off hard decisions about introducing tolls or congestion charges to help pay for it.

On the financial front, Mr Brown is focused on reining in spiralling debt, keeping rates low and continuing a big capital programme without risking a downgrade to the city's AA credit rating.

Below is a summary of the issues canvassed with Mr Brown.

Why he won't resign and whether people give a hoot about his behaviour?

"The Herald has clearly stated its position ['It's time to go, Mayor Brown,' the paper said in a front page editorial] and I have reflected on the views of your paper and a number of other people. But I've also taken the summer period to sit back and listen to the views of the community. Some have been very supportive, some have been prepared to forgive and move on, others not. The view generally from Aucklanders, and strongly represented at the opening of the Panmure rail station on Saturday, was stick with it, keep focused and keep delivering on your manifesto and working closely with councillors. I accept all of those views, but I have to make my own decision and the decision is we need to keep moving forward. There is a need for me to not wander about the place with the tail between my legs, but be humble ... and be out there clearly and freely expressing a vision."

Video - Len Brown: Why I'm staying Mayor

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How his behaviour has affected council staff, particularly female staff who see a leader who has had an affair with a council adviser

"To rebuild [from] the concerns, it just takes time to address outstanding issues and concerns people might have. I just hope they give me the time and space to do that."

His love for Shan Inglis, the two of them being a "very, very tight team" and what it would take to give up the mayoralty forhis family

"I wouldn't be in this job without my family. I have only stood for office on the basis of her [Shan's] support. Before the Manukau election, before the Auckland election I have said, 'Babe, are we going to do this, are we not?' and if she said no I wouldn't have done it."

Graham McCready's private prosecution and whether it bothers him

"This person is proposing a claim against me and until such time as things are clarified in regard to that I don't want to make any contribution to the discussion."

What possessed him to spend 74 nights in city hotels when home is a 20-minute drive away at night?

"You can only understand if you are in my job. Mostly our stays were to do with family stays. It's not unusual for the mayor of the city to enjoy a holiday in the city. It's a great thing. Particularly in the first part of the first three years, I was basically working six to seven days a week, working long into the night and frequently I would start early in the morning. And Shan and my views were to stay in town and get a comfortable night's rest. We were burning candles at both ends and this is not good for family or marriage. I accept that [it wasn't always about family and marriage: Mr Brown also had hotel stays with Ms Chuang]."

Talks with councillors about making a contribution to the EY (Ernst & Young) report and whether it will be made public.

"The issue is between myself and political colleagues. My understanding is that it would remain a confidential figure. It is up to councillors [whether the sum is made public], they set the rules so I will abide by those. I'm sure discussions are under way, we don't want to muck around on this. It is part of my contrition."

Video - Len Brown: Paying for Auckland

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Going solo on a 2014 strategy and giving councillors more say in the running of the city

"It is something of a beat-up [claims of not involving councillors in a strategy document]. I'm completely supportive of the desire by councillors to work closer. The [strategy document] presented to the Herald was an opinion piece and clearly a reflection of my leadership role of the mayor to lead strategy and policy discussion. The opinion piece brought together six of the key points we have all by and large agreed on over the past three years. Over the next week or two I will be meeting each of our councillors and discussing their leadership roles in terms of the committee structure, and meeting with each of the 21 local boards in the next month."

Can he convince the Government in election year and Aucklanders to accept tolls to pay for transport projects?

"This year we will take the discussion we have been having through the consensus-building group on alternate funding for transport to the point where by year's end we agree on a model we can take to the community for discussion and final decision in time for next year's long-term budget. We need to find revenue besides rates and taxes to fund transport and sustainably fund local government. We may have to put our hands in our pockets to deliver these things in a way we have never done before - tolls, network charges, a congestion charge. This is the challenge, not just for the Government but all the parliamentary parties who contest this election. One of the issues for Aucklanders [this year] is, 'Where does your party stand in terms of this discussion?', and the one thing we are asking all the parliamentary parties is [to] let Aucklanders have this debate."

The promise to start work on the city rail link in 2016

"Our No 1 priority is the city rail link. The owners of the block of land around Zurich House [including the downtown centre] are looking to redevelop that area and underneath would be the first stage of the rail link. The private sector in many ways is driving ahead of council. At last Aucklanders, the Government, the council and private sectors investors are all agreeing on the same thing. We have got to get this project moving. I don't think Aucklanders have any doubt we are delivering this project [Mr Brown promised in 2010 to complete the project in 5-7 years, now he is promising a start in 2016]. I am confident we are going to deliver this project. I am determined that we will make a start in 2016."

Pegging back debt and the threat to a credit rating downgrade

"A significant concern is whether our balance sheet can manage the investment that Aucklanders agree we need to make. We need to do it in a way we can sustain economically. We also know the balance sheet isn't a bottomless pit and we can't borrow endlessly. We need to be thinking very carefully about our capital programme, looking at our renewals budget and think about going to funding 100 per cent depreciation. I don't want to give any indication at all that the council credit rating is anything but a double A [the mayor's opinion piece said lower rates would restrain how much the council could borrow without risking a credit rating downgrade]. We can only go so far with borrowing ... which is the reason I have been open to public-private partnerships."

- NZ Herald

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