Len Brown report reveals extent of spending

By Heather McCracken

The report into Auckland Mayor Len Brown's use of council resources was finally issued yesterday after legal wrangling delayed its release. Auckland Council chief executive Doug McKay commissioned the report from Ernst & Young, and investigators had to work between the mayor's office and McKay's domain to access sufficient information to prepare a credible report. Heather McCracken on key findings:

Auckland Council chief executive Doug McKay yesterday released the report he commissioned from Ernst & Young into the mayor's relationship with Bevan Chuang. Photo / Greg Bowker
Auckland Council chief executive Doug McKay yesterday released the report he commissioned from Ernst & Young into the mayor's relationship with Bevan Chuang. Photo / Greg Bowker

Hotel rooms

The mayor received nine free hotel rooms during the review period, 1 November 2010 to 21 October 2013, valued at $6,130 in total, and 64 free upgrades, valued at $32,888.50.

None of the upgrades or free rooms were registered as gifts or disclosed in the mayor's declaration of interests.

No hotel rooms used for private purposes were paid for by the council, and the mayoress, Shan Inglis, advised that she paid for the family to stay privately at the Stamford Plaza on a regular basis.

A number of hotels said it was standard industry practice to provide upgrades and free rooms for VIPs.

Complimentary rooms were at the Hilton (4), SkyCity and SkyCity Grand (3), The Langham (1), and the Copthorne Hotel Auckland Harbour City (1). Upgrades were at the Stamford Plaza (57), SkyCity and SkyCity Grand (5), Heritage (1) and The Langham (1).

Phone calls and texts

The mayor's council-provided phone was used for 1375 calls and texts with former mistress Bevan Chuang during the review period, about 10 per cent of his total calls and texts.

Ms Chuang advised all were of a personal nature, while Mr Brown told the report authors about two-thirds were of a personal nature.

The council paid a total of $4538.50 for the mayor's phone during that period.

The council's policy is for personal use to be reimbursed to council by elected members. The mayor made one reimbursement of $265 on 25 October 2012. Due to variations in the pricing plan it wasn't possible to determine the cost of calls and texts to be reimbursed.

Video

Use of mayoral car and driver

The mayoral car and driver were used to take Ms Chuang home after functions she attended as the mayor's "translator", guest or Ethnic People Advisory Panel (EPAP) member. The vehicle was also used to drop off other guests after functions.

The mayor also used the car to personally drive Ms Chuang.

The council does not have a specific policy governing use of the car, but the Remuneration Authority's determination on the mayor's salary package allows full private use of the mayoral vehicle.

The mayoral office employs drivers on an hourly rate, and the understanding of the chief of staff and mayor was the driver was not available for private use.

Reference provided for Bevan Chuang's Art Gallery job

Ms Chuang gave the mayor as a referee after applying for a role at Auckland Art Gallery. The gallery requested a reference on 4 July 2011 via his office. The mayor rang back three times the following day, before a reference was emailed by one of his diary managers. The gallery's head of development did not recall speaking to the mayor until after Ms Chuang was appointed.

Ms Chuang's appointment to the ethnic panel was recommended by council officers and confirmed by the mayor. Ms Chuang advised she didn't know the mayor at the time of her appointment and there is no record of calls between them prior to this date.

There is no record of mayoral involvement in awarding her a contract to co-ordinate the New Lynn night markets in January 2013, or a short-term contract to provide administrative services to the Howick Local Board in 2012.

Translation services

Ms Chuang attended several functions as the mayor's translator, guest or as an EPAP member where she provided translation services. There is no evidence she was paid. On 18 November 2011 one of the mayor's diary managers wrote to the mayoral office chief of staff saying the mayor had requested Ms Chuang be his preferred Chinese interpreter at events. She was also engaged twice to provide translation services for Ateed, when the mayor was not present. She is not and has never been on the council's list of official translators.

International travel

The mayor travelled to China and Hong Kong in November 2011 as part of an NZTA initiative, with flights and accommodation paid by NZTA. A side trip to Guangzhou was paid for by council. On November 11, the mayor had dinner in a hotel restaurant with a mayoral office staff member and a personal friend who had been engaged to provide translation services in Guangzhou. No record of payment for these services have been found. The staff member could not recall the dinner, but paid for it using their personal credit card, and claimed back the $134.93 expense from council.

The mayor advised it was council-related, however emails referred to it as "private" and "personal", and an email exchange two days prior to the dinner highlighted that NZTA were uncomfortable paying for the mayor's friend's meal.

The council said the mayor saved costs by using his contact rather than hiring an interpreter.

Ms Chuang did not accompany the mayor on this or any other trip.

The security guard

The mayor and Ms Chuang both confirmed a security guard interrupted them having sex one evening in the mayoral offices. A review of emails found no correspondence relating to the guard. All individual security staff were met and given the opportunity to speak with the report authors. None came forward.

Both the mayor and Ms Chuang said they did not attempt to contact the security guard after the incident.

Brown's statement

Len Brown admitted he should not have accepted free rooms, and should have disclosed that he had in October.

"This was an error of judgment and I apologise to the people of Auckland," he said.

Mr Brown said of the nine free rooms, only one was in relation to Ms Chuang.

He said the report noted he never used council resources for private accommodation or in relation to Ms Chuang, and he does not hold a council credit card.

"However, I accept that as mayor I am subject to a higher standard of public accountability, and in this context I should not have accepted the free rooms offered to me, and should have disclosed this fact when I was asked about it in October."


Read the full report

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 22 Oct 2014 06:42:16 Processing Time: 446ms