The legality of a secret Wellington City Council meeting which approved the use of ratepayers' money to underwrite the New Zealand Open golf tournament has been challenged by a former councillor.

But Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast said that in spite of claims by ex-councillor Jack Ruben, the council was justified, with Kapiti Coast District Council, in providing limited liability of a total of $279,000 for the tournament.

Wellington City pledged $234,000 and Kapiti Coast $45,000 after the organisers said that, without underwriter support, the event would be cancelled.

Mr Ruben, who was a councillor between 1996 and 1998, said yesterday that he was a keen golfer, but the council should not be using public money to underwrite commercial ventures.


"The principle is wrong and I'm not sure whether it's legal."

Assistant Ombudsman Leo Donnelly said that as long as the council followed provisions governing grounds for holding meetings in public-excluded session as set out in the Local Government Official Information Act 1987, it would seem to be within its rights to conduct business in this manner.

Such provisions include preventing the privacy of individuals or preventing prejudice against any commercial decision.

Ms Prendergast said the commercially sensitive nature of the information being presented about the Open's finances, and fears that publicising the meeting would undermine confidence in the event's staging and financial security, justified the secrecy.

The Open's directors have not asked for the $279,000.