Editorial: Brazen Brown doesn't see tide's turned

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Councillors unanimously passed a vote to censure Len Brown for breaching the council's code of conduct. Photo / Dean Purcell
Councillors unanimously passed a vote to censure Len Brown for breaching the council's code of conduct. Photo / Dean Purcell

If Len Brown declined to make a move yesterday, there was not going to be a move. That was the harsh reality for Aucklanders, the majority of whom clearly want the mayor to resign, and the councillors who met to publicly censure him. Mr Brown's obduracy duly carried the day as he refused to acknowledge that the standing and influence he once enjoyed had been shredded by conflicts of interest and inadequate explanations and apologies arising from inquiries into his two-year extramarital affair.

In the end, councillors unanimously passed a vote to censure Mr Brown for breaching the council's code of conduct in failing to declare free hotel rooms and upgrades. But that came only after some had focused far too much on the peripheral issue of obtaining financial recompense from the mayor. To meet their concerns, Mr Brown agreed to negotiate with a committee of councillors over the full reimbursement of his remaining personal costs and to make an "appropriate" payment towards other costs incurred by the council.

The latter suggested even a highly questionable contribution to the $100,000-plus spent on the EY review would be on the table.

Those hoping for public accountability over Mr Brown's repayment should not hold their breaths. Afterwards, talking to reporters, he revealed that this part of the censure would remain confidential. The commitment to accountability will go only so far.

Three-quarters of the council also signalled their willingness to work with Mr Brown "in the best interests of the people of Auckland", while a bid for a vote of no confidence was disallowed because it did not meet the council's standing orders. Such a vote would, of course, have signalled the city's governance had become dysfunctional.

After yesterday, we are heading into the realm of dysfunction already, with the censure vote including a call for "a stronger working relationship and level of accountability" between the mayor and councillors. This vague directive leaves open the chance for councillors to second-guess the resourcing and operations of the independent mayoral office. The mayoralty's legal powers cannot be overturned but as we said on Wednesday, it is a recipe for the type of meddling by the partisan and parochial that held back the region for so long. Indeed, overcoming that state of affairs was a catalyst for the Super City.

The Royal Commission on Auckland Governance emphasised the need for a strong and independent mayor. It said: "Auckland needs an inspirational leader, inclusive in approach and decisive in action. Auckland needs a person who is able to articulate and deliver on a shared vision, and who can speak for the region, and deliver regional priorities decisively."

Yesterday's peculiar accord makes that ever less likely. Auckland has a mayor who is politically reined in, reputationally damaged and personally unlikely to regain residents' respect. It also has a mayor who must, one day soon, realise his diminished mana cannot allow him to speak for all in the region. At one level, a right-wing councillor, Sharon Stewart, reveals Mr Brown's reputation so troubled schools and churches in her community they found it hard to have him present awards. At another, left-wing commentator Chris Trotter doubts Mr Brown's ability to be taken seriously in Wellington.

The mayor's failure to acknowledge the reality of his position was starkly apparent when, offered a "right of reply" to the councillors' decisions yesterday afternoon, he offered a few perfunctory thoughts that came across as insufficient and offhand. The contrition that even his council supporters desired remained out of reach.

The manner in which Mr Brown has brazened it out with the council and the people this week shows he doesn't, really, get that his tide has gone out. The city needs a new leader.

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- NZ Herald

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