Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Top council pair stonewall on key questions arising from affair

Len Brown. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Len Brown. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Auckland Mayor Len Brown and council chief executive Doug McKay are refusing to answer key questions arising from the mayor's extra-marital affair with Bevan Chuang, including whether he breached the council's code of conduct.

The two most powerful figures at the council have stonewalled the Herald for two days on whether Mr Brown has broken council rules and what the rules are for council staff having sex in the workplace.

This is despite guidelines by the Office of the Auditor-General that "a public scandal could be severely damaging" to a public body, like Auckland Council, and lead to people "losing their jobs".

Mr Brown yesterday confirmed he provided a reference for his ex-mistress to help her get a job at the council-run art gallery. And Mr McKay launched an inquiry into Mr Brown's spending in the wake of the sex scandal. The decision was made following inquiries from the Herald about whether Mr Brown's affair breached the council's code of conduct and conflict of interest policies.

Mr McKay said the mayor had no council credit card and all invoices and payments from the mayoral budget were checked and approved by the chief of staff.

"I have received an assurance from both the mayor and his chief of staff that no mayoral office funds were used in relation to the mayor's relationship with Ms Chuang."

"However I have agreed to independently review this to confirm that is the case."

But Mr McKay remained silent about the code of conduct and conflict of interest policy. Nor would he say what the rules were around council staff having sex in the workplace and whether anyone had been dismissed for having sex at work.

Mr Brown and Mr McKay also refused to say if Ms Chuang had a council contract at the New Lynn market. She claimed to be paid $500 a week by the council as a co-ordinator at the market.

Last night, Associate Professor Ken Palmer, a local government expert at Auckland University, doubted a case could be brought against Mr Brown under the code of conduct if he provided a reference to Ms Chuang before their relationship began.

A greater case could be made if the pair were in a relationship, in which case Mr McKay would have to make a call if a complaint was lodged.

Ms Chuang said her relationship began in May 2011, two months before Mr Brown provided the reference in July 2011.

Professor Palmer thought the CEO would have to hold a full-scale inquiry if the council voted for it, but would have less scope if there was a complaint from a single councillor or member of the public.

The council code of conduct says members "must declare any private interests or personal benefits relating to their public duties and take steps to resolve any conflicts of interest in such a way that protects the public interest".

The questions

Len Brown and council chief executive Doug McKay have yet to answer the following:

• Did [Mr Brown's actions providing a reference for Bevan Chuang] comply with the Council Code of Conduct, including the Conflicts of Interest Policy and the guidelines of the Office of the Auditor-General?

• Did the mayor seek advice from the chief executive or the Office of the Auditor-General before deciding to provide a reference or act as a referee?

• Did the mayor provide any other references/act as a referee for Ms Chuang on other occasions?

• Has Ms Chuang been contracted by the council in any other capacity, including the New Lynn market?

• What are the rules around council staff having sex in the workplace?

- NZ Herald

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