Councillors lodge complaint with Auditor-General over legal letter.

The head of a panel that selects Auckland Council's Maori advisers threatened councillors with personal legal action over a vote to release ratepayer money.

Tame Te Rangi, the chairman of the Independent Maori Statutory Board's selection panel, made the threat in a letter to Auckland Council's chief executive, Stephen Town, on July 24.

The Herald on Sunday obtained a copy of the letter, which states if Auckland Council didn't release the funding, he would initiate "legal proceedings against Auckland Council and each member of the Governing Body in their personal capacity".

The vote went ahead and the money — which the selection panel wants to use for a High Court case — was approved.

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But some of the councillors have lodged a formal complaint with the Auditor-General calling for an investigation. "In essence this amounted to the individual who had written a letter threatening councillors with legal action against them personally," they wrote.

"No legal advice was forthcoming as to the personal liability of councillors and the vote proceeded."

The letter — from councillors Mike Lee, Wayne Walker and John Watson — said they were "gravely concerned" about the process.

When contacted by the Herald on Sunday, Te Rangi initially denied the personal legal threats, saying his intention was to "talk to the council".

When the letter was read back to him he said: "I've got no further comment to make, the matter has been addressed and has been closed as far as I'm concerned."

Minutes from an August 27 meeting show council approved the funding by nine votes to seven - with Mayor Len Brown and his deputy Penny Hulse among those who voted in favour.

Although the letter was sent to Town, it was included in the full agenda of the August meeting provided to councillors. A spokesman for Brown said the mayor voted in accordance with the legal advice he was given and the process was not over. The mayor wasn't concerned with the letter's contents.

The amount of money has not been determined.

Te Rangi sought the funding to pay for a challenge to a 2014 High Court judgment that deemed the appointment process to the Independent Maori Statutory Board was flawed. The court case was brought after broadcaster Willie Jackson failed to gain a seat on the board.

Te Rangi wrote in his letter that the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act 2009 "clearly requires Auckland Council to meet the costs of the selection body in selecting members for the IMSB. This includes selection body costs associated with court action to uphold and defend that selection process."

Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC, a constitutional law expert, said personal legal threats against councillors was extraordinary.

"It seems a very unusual thing to do and I would suspect there are very considerable legal obstacles in front of doing so."

The Independent Maori Statutory Board was formed in 2010 in the aftermath of then Local Government Minister Rodney Hide's rejection of separate Maori seats for the new-look Auckland Council. It was created to advise the council on issues of Maori interest and significance.

The board's selection panel is a group of mana whenua representatives, whose function is to appoint nine members to the board every three years.