Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Councillors vote to censure Mayor Len Brown

Auckland Mayor Len Brown after the vote by Auckland councilors to censure him. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Auckland Mayor Len Brown after the vote by Auckland councilors to censure him. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says his council's decision to censure him today was "fair but very firm" and appropriate.

Auckland Council today passed a vote to censure Mr Brown but continue to work with him, and will not carry out a vote of no confidence.

A preliminary vote was tied, but was passed by 15 votes to five, following a 30-minute adjournment

Speaking to media this afternoon, Mr Brown said he accepted the decision.

"This is a fair but very firm direction to myself and I have indicated to them that I accept that that is an appropriate direction."

He would not be drawn on how much he would contribute to the Ernst and Young report into his affair with Bevan Chuang, a matter which will now be the subject of "confidential but binding" negotiations between Mr Brown and a group of councillors.

Mr Brown said his decision not to resign was made after "genuine, deep reflection" and advice from around the council.

"It's fair to say that in this type of situation you give serious consideration to what your options are and my very essence has been questioned.

"It's not as though you come through a situation like this without doubts. But I've been hugely supported by family, friends and Aucklanders right across the whole spectrum."

He said his "passion for the city and my view as to how we go forward" had "maintained my equilibrium and ultimately my preparedness to stay here and continue to do the work".

He said there was nothing else relating to his conduct that could emerge and undermine today's vote, but he acknowledged there were those in the community who were not happy with him..

"My hope is that over time I can win that trust back," he said.

"This has been the most difficult time of my life. Much of it has been because of the impact on my family and my primary focus over the last nine weeks has been to repair the fences there as best I can.

"But for those that feel I haven't been contrite enough, I've really spent nine weeks in fairly clear contrition across all my personal and professional life."

Mr Brown said he had "genuinely tested" the support of many if not all of his Councillors.

"This has been a difficult thing for them to fathom, to understand and to accept. I, though, believe that I continue to enjoy the support of them as leader and the person generally setting the direction of the city."

The motion to censure the mayor passed by 15 votes to 5 with cries of "shame on you'' coming from the public gallery.

Mr Brown then told the council he accepted "unreservedly and absolutely'' the recommendations and would endeavour to see them through.

Councillors and the public had been debating the censure of the mayor for failing to declare free hotel rooms and upgrades and the fallout over his two year affair with Bevan Chuang.

Mr Brown walked into the meeting where he was due to be censured to a chorus of boos and polite clapping. He listened to initial comments from the public before vacating the chair and leaving the meeting.

Councillor Mike Lee said the issue was unprecedented in his 21 years in local Government politics.

"The Auckland council in the past few weeks and months has suffered a blow, it's been battered and bruised and the question now is what to do about it.''

The motion of censure was unprecedented and was one of the strongest motions a fellow politician could give, Mr Lee said.

"It means we have chastised the mayor for his failings, and a motion of no confidence means that we can't work with him.

"Members, we have a choice here and we have to try and move forward.''

Councillor Dick Quax said the council would only be able to move forward when Mr Brown was gone.

"He has been the architect of his own dilemma.''

All he has done was to try to put the blame on someone else, he had shown no integrity and failed in his duty of the Mayor of Auckland, Mr Quax said.

It was imperative that Mr Brown paid the cost of the EY report, he said.

"The sleaze from the first floor of this building is a rotting political corpse.

"That stench can only been cleared when the Mayor moves out.''

The council is deliberating whether to vote in option 'f' - "note the Mayor's apology and expression of contrition for his actions; and mindful of the importance of maintaining political stability and confidence in the governance of Auckland, signals its willingness to work with the Mayor in the best interests of the people of Auckland.''

If that fails a "no confidence" motion can be taken.

Councillor Calum Penrose questioned how the council would move forward in the next three years in the wake of Mr Brown's actions.

Councillor John Watson said Mr Brown should reimburse ratepayers for the cost of text messages and other costs incurred during the affair with Ms Chuang.

Mr Brown should also make a meaningful contribution toward the cost of the EY report, he said.

The council needed to move forward from the "sad and sordid affair'', Mr Watson said.

Councillor Cameron Brewer said the council had not asked Mr Brown for "full disclosure'' of the affair and whether there were any other women involved.

Mr Brown needed to make a real contribution from his own back pocket, "for all the lawyers, for all the spin doctors ...''.

It was not fair that the the suburban ratepayers of Auckland had to bear the brunt of that cost, Mr Brewer said.

"The mayor should stand down and that is our position,'' Mr Brewer said.

The council did not need to suffer "more sleaze, more scandal, more carnage'', he said

"Sin city,'' came a call from the public gallery.

Ratepayers would see that simply censuring Mr Brown as "a wet bus ticket'', Mr Brewer said.

"He needs to go because he can no longer credibly turn up to Wellington and thump his hand on the desk [and ask for more money for transport projects from central government].

"For the best interests of Auckland, he now needs to go.''

Councillor Christine Fletcher said Mr Brown had breached the council's code of conduct.

"This issue has divided the community, and I think the Mayor has absolutely gone beyond the pale.

"I feel we need some very serious debate.''

A vote of no confidence would not remove Mr Brown from his position as mayor, she said.

However, it would "at least give us come comfort``.

As he could not be forced to stand down, Mr Brown should be made to contribute towards the costs of the EY report, Ms Fletcher said.

He may not like it, however the councillors did not like his actions either, she said.

Mr Brown had an extreme sense of entitlement which needed to be addressed, Ms Fletcher said.

A presentation was given by Auckland resident Lisa Prager, who told Mr Brown his time as mayor was over.

The comment was met by calls of "stand down Len, stand down'' from the packed public gallery.

"We want you gone, we want you out of that seat,'' some observers called.

"I call on this governing committee to do the right thing and ask for this man to stand down,'' Ms Prager said.

"On behalf of the people of Auckland I ask for you stand down.''

Referring to the cost of the EY report, Auckland Council Chief Executive Doug McKay said there was no requirement for the mayor to pay for all or any part of the report.

"User pays, user pays,'' the public gallery heckled.

Councillor Sharon Steward questioned why the security guard who caught Mr Brown and Bevan Chuang in an intimate act did not report the event earlier.

Mr McKay said the security guard had chosen not to step forward either at the time, or while the affair with Ms Chuang was investigated.

However, Mr Brown and Ms Chuang had assured the council they had not approached the guard after he caught them together, Mr McKay said.

This morning Mr Brown arrived at the Town Hall refusing to say whether he would resign.


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Mr Brown is expected to accept the censure motion and try to hang onto his $251,010-a-year-job.

Last night, he was talking to close advisers about paying some of the costs of the EY report, which one source said would create a precedent in local and national politics.

"Should he pay for the rope at his own hanging. It represents a very difficult proposition for him," the source said.

One option is for Mr Brown to pay a financial penalty not directly linked to the costs of the report, which largely cleared him of using council resources for his two-year affair with Bevan Chuang and found he failed to declare more than $39,000 in free hotel rooms and upgrades.

Collins to Len: Do you have the moral authority?

A senior Government minister says Mayor Len Brown has to question whether he has the moral authority to stay on as mayor.

Judith Collins, who has known Mr Brown for 30 years, made the comment this morning ahead of a council meeting at which the mayor will face motions of censure and no confidence.

She told RadioLive the mayor had to question whether he should stay on.

"My advice to Len is this - Len, do you have the moral authority to do what is an extremely important job?''

Ms Collins said she had been hearing consistently negative comments around Auckland about someone who people used to think very highly of.

"And I just think it's really going to be very tough if he wishes to stay.

"But if he does, obviously we will work with anyone when it comes to the mayor of Auckland, and we have to as a Government. But Len's really got to think about it.''

Ms Collins did not want to tell Mr Brown what to do.

"Because ultimately, he's the one who knows what else might come out, and really I think he can see when his biggest supporter, the New Zealand Herald, has a go at him, as they did yesterday - they didn't just have a go at him, they completely decided that they were not going to support him any more - I think he really has to think about that.

"They've been his biggest supporter for the last four years, and really, when they've gone like that, that tells me something. There's more coming.''

Mr Brown had to consider the matter himself and think about getting advice from people who were not being paid to do so, Ms Collins said.

"People whose jobs depend on him being in that role, they may not be the right people to be telling him, talking to him at this stage. And he needs to consider, does he really want to keep doing this?''

Labour MP Shane Jones said there was no future for Mr Brown in public life after this, and he had to decide whether to leave now or later.

Read the Herald editorial calling on Mr Brown to go.

Yesterday the Herald ran an editorial calling for Mr Brown to resign. The overwhelming majority of hundreds of responses to the editorial have backed the Herald, which is believed to be the first time the newspaper has called on a city mayor to resign.

Prime Minister John Key told 3 News that it was an issue for Mr Brown, saying he needed to reflect on everything that has taken place and speak to councillors and his family.

Yesterday on bFM radio, Mr Brown borrowed a quote from the Queen, describing 2013 as an "annus horribilis", or horrible year. In plain language, he admitted to copping a "a fair whack around the ears".

"It's been really, really tough and not just in the public eye obviously, (but also) for us as a family, for me as a husband and a dad - it's been really difficult to confront that and that's where the damage has been most profound," he said.

Read more: Michael Barnett: I'd stand as Auckland's mayor

Ms Hulse would not say if she backed Mr Brown to stay on as mayor, only that councillors were focused on doing what was best for Auckland. Photo / NZ Herald
Ms Hulse would not say if she backed Mr Brown to stay on as mayor, only that councillors were focused on doing what was best for Auckland. Photo / NZ Herald

Deputy mayor won't say if she backs Brown

Auckland Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse won't say whether she would stand for mayor in a by-election, should Len Brown resign.

Her comments come as councillors gather today to publicly censure Mr Brown, whose extramarital affair has left him fighting for political survival.

Ms Hulse told RadioLive this morning there were no processes, under the current law, to require the mayor to step down.

"Censure is a clear way of the councillors saying, on behalf of the people they represent, so for us the people of Auckland, `This is what you've done wrong. We're not happy.'

"But the bottom line is there are no processes in our current statute that can require the councillors to ask the mayor to step down.''

Ms Hulse said she had "absolutely no view'' on whether Mr Brown should resign.

"Legally, if Len resigned, I would become the temporary mayor while a by-election is held. There's no getting around the legal process. However, that's in the future and it may be something that will never happen.

"I'm not actually interested in conjecture. I'm interested in focussing on a good outcome today that's fair, equitable and represents the people of Auckland, as well as a socially just outcome.''

Ms Hulse said she had absolutely no interest in discussing whether she would stand for mayor if a by-election was held.

"We need to get through today. We need to make sure that we get a good outcome and we focus in the future.''

Asked if she had confidence in the Mayor, she said her job was to make sure "the punishment fits the crime''.

"I'm chairing the meeting. I need to be a neutral party in the middle, and I'm absolutely clear that that's my job.''

Where councillors stand

Len Brown should go
• Cameron Brewer
• Linda Cooper
• Denise Krum
• Dick Quax
• Sharon Stewart

Len Brown should be censured
Arthur Anae*
• Bill Cashmore
Alf Filipaina*
• Chris Fletcher
• Penny Hulse
Mike Lee*
• Penny Webster
• George Wood
*Councillors who have publicly backed Len Brown staying in office

Position unclear
• Cathy Casey
• Ross Clow
• Chris Darby
• Calum Penrose
• John Walker
• Wayne Walker
• John Watson


Readers' views

Figures taken from the Herald news desk email and Facebook page at 4pm yesterday show the number of people commenting on whether Len Brown should stay or go as Auckland Mayor. There were also hundreds of comments on nzherald.co.nz.

Of 287 comments
• Len should go: 188 (65%)
• Len should stay: 54 (19%)
• Undecided: 45 (16%)

- NZ Herald

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