Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Leader of Unitary plan off to Rio

Alf Filipaina has taken leave from his $105,800-a-year role to attend the Olympics.
Alf Filipaina has taken leave from his $105,800-a-year role to attend the Olympics.

The man leading the Auckland Council's blueprint for future development is basking in the sun at the Rio Olympics while his colleagues are ploughing through the details of the Unitary Plan.

Alf Filipaina has taken leave from his $105,800-a-year role to attend the Olympics, even though he is chairman of the Unitary Plan committee, which oversaw the council's position on the blueprint.

Council sources told the Weekend Herald Filipaina was at Rio to watch a niece, who has been taking part in the women's rugby sevens competition.

He is the only councillor absent from a marathon, seven-day meeting at the Auckland Town Hall to make final decisions on the Unitary Plan, which will shape the future of the city for decades to come.

The holiday has raised eyebrows among some councillors.

Waitakere councillor Linda Cooper said Filipaina might have weighed up his personal reasons for going to Rio but she was surprised at his absence.

The Unitary Plan, she said, was setting the direction of the city for the next 20 years and it was the responsibility of councillors to attend big meetings.

Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer said some councillors were disappointed that the Unitary Plan committee chair was not present to see the plan through at a critical stage.

The Manukau councillor has skipped the meeting by tendering an apology, which was accepted at the start of the meeting.

Unlike workers, councillors do not have a leave entitlement and can go on holiday at any time so long as they tender an apology or get leave of absence from Mayor Len Brown.

Brown had no comment on Filipaina's absence, but quipped: "It would be nice if I was there."

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse, who has shepherded the plan through with Filipaina, said her colleague was entitled to take leave and she was not going to comment on other councillors' performance or role round the council table.

Asked if it was appropriate for Filipaina to be away from one of the most important issues before council, Hulse said he had chaired the portion of the Unitary Plan going through the panel process and his job was done.

"He is on leave. Councillors do take leave from time to time. He is quite entitled to do so."

The absent councillor, who has not had council funding for his trip, did not respond to messages from the Herald.

Last year, Filipaina faced criticism for accepting a Fifa-funded junket to Switzerland in 2011 to inspect artificial football pitches.

That trip came as the Orakei Local Board was deciding on which artificial pitch to use for the Oceania Football Confederation's (OFC) new $15 million "Home of Football" at Stonefields.

Orakei Local Board member Kit Parkinson said he had also been offered the trip, but turned it down due to a potential conflict of interest.

Filipaina was not involved in selecting Chinese company Taishan as the turf provider.

- NZ Herald

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