Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Failed vote may have been kinder

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Move to make mayor pay is vindictive, and the censure motion shows little willingness to work together

Councillors are demanding Brown pay the costs of the independent report that provided the ammunition used to prosecute him. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Councillors are demanding Brown pay the costs of the independent report that provided the ammunition used to prosecute him. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Sitting through Len Brown's mock trial at the Town Hall yesterday, it became clear why real courts of law have developed intricate codes of conduct and procedure over the centuries to try to ensure a fair trial for those in the dock.

With the Quax-Brewer gang baying for blood, Tamaki housing rights protesters heckling from the back stalls and the sound of a brass band practising Jingle Bells and O Come All Ye Faithful flowing into the room from a nearby stairwell, the Brown hearing was more akin to a show trial.

Not least because the punishment and the list of charges voted on had been negotiated with the "prisoner" over several days.

Unlike most trials, Mr Brown was sent from the room for the debate. The only issue still left up in the air is the size of Mr Brown's "fine". And here it gets particularly bizarre.

Borrowing from the Chinese communists, who are said to send a bill to the next of kin of an executed prisoner for the cost of the fatal bullet, councillors are demanding Mr Brown pay the costs of the independent report that provided the ammunition used to prosecute him. This is the report by EY - formerly Ernst & Young - commissioned by the chief executive to check whether the mayor misused council funds or his position during his affair with Bevan Chuang.

EY's answer was no, he did not. It did, however, unearth three free room nights at SkyCity and 64 undeclared hotel room upgrades at assorted city hotels, mainly the Stamford Plaza.

The upgrades were valued at $32,888 - if you calculate them at the unreal, maximum possible tariff. As for the EY report, it was budgeted to cost $100,000 for four weeks' work. But it took seven weeks, and the final bill is likely to reflect that.

Yesterday, councillors voted to "require that the mayor make full reimbursement of all remaining personal costs and also make an appropriate contribution to other costs incurred by the council".

The initial wording was to "request" the mayor make full reimbursement, but councillors from the right, including the mover of the motion, Christine Fletcher, hardened it up before the vote.

Mrs Fletcher further insisted, before the vote was put, that a negotiator be dispatched to the mayor to make sure he would agree to pay up.

After a half-hour break, an agreement was reached that a group of senior councillors would negotiate "in good faith" with the mayor. This is a backdown by the mayor, who a week ago said he would not pay the cost of the report. To me that seemed fair.

It's true the mayor seems to have few friends inside or outside the council at present, but trying to beggar him with the cost of the EY report and some highly questionable hotel upgrade costs is just vindictive.

At times yesterday's meeting descended into banality. The right demanded to know why the investigators had failed to identify the security guard who allegedly came upon Mr Brown and Ms Chuang in the Ngati Whatua Room. As though that mattered.

They also demanded to know the "keywords" input by EY when it searched the million or more emails on the council server, trawling for evidence against the mayor.

The attempt to move a vote of no confidence did fail to make first base.

But for all the talk of trying to move on by the majority, there was no doubt that even among his old allies, the support was hard to find. Councillor Cathy Casey, for example, who is usually never short of a word, stayed mute for the whole meeting.

Perhaps most telling was the decision to change the final clause of the resolution which initially read that the council "accepts the mayor's apology and expression of contrition for his actions ..."

Councillors voted instead "to note the mayor's apology ... "

Such a deliberate change indicates how isolated the mayor now is.

It also calls into question the second part of the resolution which says the vote signals the councillors' "willingness to work with the mayor in the best interests of the people of Auckland".

True, only five councillors supported a vote of no confidence, but the vote of censure that was passed, complete with its excessive fines and unconciliatory wording, suggests little interest in any ongoing relationship as far as councillors are concerned.

It only adds to the mayor's humiliation.

A no-confidence vote might have been kinder.

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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