John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for APNZ.

Mayor to face council as casino row flares

Len Brown will face angry councillors tomorrow. Photo / Doug Sherring
Len Brown will face angry councillors tomorrow. Photo / Doug Sherring

Embattled mayor Len Brown tomorrow faces an angry council seeking to blunt his powers in the wake of the mayoral sex scandal.

Brown will meet all councillors to hear their concerns ahead of a full Auckland Council meeting on Thursday.

That meeting was intended to discuss the draft annual plan; now, the Herald on Sunday understands deputy Penny Hulse has added Brown's undeclared hotel room upgrades to the agenda as an emergency item.

Councillors are shaken by Friday's damning EY audit report, which found the mayor had made 1375 calls and texts to his mistress, Bevan Chuang, and failed to declare $39,000 in free hotel rooms and upgrades.

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He breached the council's code of conduct, by not declaring hotels rooms, an NRL grand final ticket and an iPad (which he auctioned for charity).

Brown took three free hotel nights and five upgrades at SkyCity hotels during the time he was championing the pokies-for-convention-centre deal.

One option floated by councillors is to censure Brown, or limit his involvement in any discussion where he could have perceived conflict of interest, for example around Sky City.

Brown has apologised for misleading Aucklanders. He said he had wrongly claimed he paid for all the hotel trysts with Chuang out of his own pocket, putting it down to "not having full power of recollection".

But that apology is not enough for some of the councillors. At Thursday's council meeting, Hulse and the other 19 councillors have the power to censure the mayor, though they cannot sack him.

North Shore's Chris Darby said the hotel room findings were a worry. "The key question for me, and it's the question I'll put to the mayor ... is 'does he have the ability to lead our city?"'

But Albany ward councillor John Watson said the mayor should be prevented from making decisions on issues around SkyCity - such as the convention centre and associated infrastructure - given the undisclosed freebies he had accepted from the casino's hotels.

"There has to be some fairly meaningful repercussions here, and no doubt the council will make the judgment on that."

Waitakere's Linda Cooper said the governing body could censure Brown and most councillors expected an apology. "If he was in central government politics he'd be gone. People do stupid things ... it's how they respond to that and how they redeem themselves that's important. I don't see any of that happening, and that's what I'm disappointed in."

A Herald online poll yesterday asked readers if Brown should remain mayor of Auckland. By last night, 72 per cent of 7100 respondents had said he should go.

Rodney ward councillor Penny Webster said Brown should stay, but she'd watch him closely. Waitemata and Gulf's Mike Lee said Brown should stay and Manukau's Alf Filipaina and Arthur Anae emphatically backed Brown. "He's been cleared, hasn't he? So he'll stay," Filipaina said.

At home yesterday, Brown declined to comment. "You might as well leave," he said, before driving off. Later, a spokesman reiterated Brown "never claimed a cent" of ratepayer money for private accommodation.

- Herald on Sunday

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