A win for the Helicopter Trust

March 14th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown has called for a funding board at the centre of a row with the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust to be scrapped following its recommendation to slash funding for the trust by half. …

“It is difficult for Aucklanders to make sense of a decision to cut the rescue helicopter’s funding by 70 per cent in the last five years, while increasing funding for the nine other regional organisations it funds by between 30 and 150 per cent,” the mayor said.

“I think we have to be upfront and say this funding model is not working for Auckland and it’s time that council worked with central government to fix it.”

The first step, he said, would be to work with Auckland councillors to come up with a plan to fill the $900,000 gap in the trust’s finances.

Brown’s doing the right thing here. He’s basically saying the Board is making decisions that defy common sense, and they should be abolished. Until such time the Auckland council directly will step in and restore funding to the Helicopter Trust.

 

Tags:

Auckland sites needing a cultural assessment grow to 5,500

March 10th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Bernard Orsman writes:

The Auckland Council has confirmed that an extra 2000 or so properties are covered by a controversial rule requiring owners to seek iwi approval to work on their land.

A rule in the council’s draft Unitary Plan requires applicants carrying out work on 3661 sites of significance and value to mana whenua to obtain a “cultural impact assessment” from one or more of 19 iwi groups.

Now the council has told the Herald the rule applies to “significant ecological areas (SEA)”, of which more than 2000 were in the plan.

Maybe it would be easier for the Council to just provide a list of sites which don’t need a cultural assessment in order to remove vegetation etc. Eventually that will be the shorter list.

Politicians are divided on the iwi consent rule, which Auckland University associate law professor Ken Palmer said must be seen as invalid.

In a letter to the Herald on Friday, Professor Palmer, an expert on the Resource Management Act, said Labour amended the act in 2005 to clarify doubts over consultation, especially with iwi.

“The section unequivocally states ‘neither [an applicant nor a council] has a duty under this act to consult any person about the application’.”

Council chief planning officer Dr Roger Blakeley disputed Dr Palmer’s interpretation, saying a cultural impact assessment was not equivalent to consultation, but similar to a requirement to supply specialist reports, such as from an engineer.

Semantics. It is another step towards town planners undermining the rights of owners.

Professor Palmer did not agree with Dr Blakeley’s view, saying a specialist report might be justified on matters of land risk, noise and air pollution, etc, but any obligation to consult mana whenua on cultural concerns went beyond this “and impinges on normal rights of freehold ownership”.

Indeed.

Labour’s Maori affairs spokesman, Shane Jones, said the council should assure itself it was taking account of Maori criteria in the act because the average Kiwi would recoil when asked to engage in a long and expensive cultural impact assessment.

Mr Jones said no one doubted the need to embrace obligations to respect sacred sites, but the issue had morphed into something else.

I’m still waiting for someone in the media to pin Nanaia Mahuta down and ask her if she agrees with Shane Jones in his opposition to the cultural assessments. Or Phil Twyford. Or David Cunliffe.

Tags: , ,

Stopping the double dippers

March 4th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

MP Maggie Barry is labelling a Shore politician’s claims she is trying to remove him from office as “ridiculous”.

But Devonport-Takapuna Local Board member Grant Gillon says it’s no conspiracy theory.

Ms Barry, National MP for North Shore, had her bill to stop people serving on two or more Auckland local boards drawn from the member’s bill ballot.

Very sensible. You can’t be the MP for Wellington Central and say the MP for Mana. Your job is to represent one locality.

Among the few politicians this would affect is Mr Gillon who serves on both Devonport-Takapuna and Kaipatiki local boards.

Mr Gillon believes it’s motivated by his support for stopping housing at Bayswater Marina and opposition to closing Takapuna Beach Holiday Park to make way for a national sailing centre.

“There can be no other reason why the local MP considers removing me from office as the most important issue for the North Shore in an election year.”

He says the bill is poorly drafted and will force at least six costly by-elections across Auckland.

There is an SOP with the bill to clarify it is not retrospective. There will be no by-elections. The issue is whether politicians such as Gillon should be allowed to serve on two or more local boards concurrently.

Ms Barry says double dipping opens up the “real potential for conflicts of interest”.

“This has allowed local board power to be concentrated in the hands of a few people, many of whom don’t even live in the area they represent.”

The idea of local boards is that they are, well local.

Tags: , , , ,

Jones v taniwha

March 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Another good quote from Shane Jones:

A couple have been told to apply to 14 different iwi to keep the water running to their home.

Brent and Jennifer Tassell will need approval to renew resource consent on a bore hole that has been operating for 10 years, supplying water to eight Puhoi homes.

The bore draws water from 305m underground and is the only source of water for the properties in Slowater Lane, on the northern outskirts of greater Auckland.

“It’s a hole in the ground that’s been there for 10 years,” said Jennifer. “It’s completely over the top for our situation.”

Under the draft Auckland Unitary Plan, all applicants for resource consent for new or existing developments must apply to iwi for them to assess whether it would have an adverse effect on mana whenua.

Taking or using groundwater is on the list of activities that could have a cultural impact, so iwi may insist on a cultural impact assessment – at the applicant’s cost.

Applicants may also have to foot the bill for the “costs of engagement” in the process.

The Tassells will meet Labour MP Shane Jones, who has been vocal in his disagreement with iwi approval rules.

He warned the new Auckland Council lacked safeguards.

“Maori heritage, while it’s important, it must never be used as a basis for divisiveness – and I fear that’s a consequence in this case,” he said.

Iwi should not be allowed to intervene to “test whether there’s a taniwha down a 10-year-old bore”.

What a great quote. Any other MP saying it would probably get bashed, but Jones can get away with it.

Jones has transformed himself from one of the laziest Labour MPs to one of the most effective. It is great to see.

Tags: , ,

A resignation offence

March 3rd, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Auckland politician has admitted making threatening comments about getting a restaurant’s liquor licence pulled after being refused a free bottle of wine.

Howick local board member Steve Udy faces a formal complaint, after the incident last week at the Porterhouse Grill, a popular new family-owned restaurant in Pakuranga.

Resident Peter Barclay, who is related to one of the staff, has lodged a complaint with Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town, demanding Udy be censured for using his position to solicit a gift.

“When this was politely refused by management he became abusive and claimed that because of his position as a Howick board member he had the power to close the restaurant down,” the complaint alleges.

That’s so far beyond acceptable behaviour that I think it is a resignation offence. You should not hold positions like that, if you think it allows you to bully local restaurants.

Tags: ,

Is the Maori Party calling Shane Jones racist?

March 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Maori Party have said:

The Maori Party say a cultural impact assessment clause in Auckland’s Draft Unitary Plan is a good idea, and that people focusing on race and cost are missing the big picture.

Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party Co-leader says “the provision in the plan to seek a cultural impact assessment from mana whenua on certain sites tagged for development is a good thing. It’s good because Maori have knowledge, history and a unique cultural perspective that can and will add value to our resource management decisions.”

“We are, however, shocked and disappointed with some of the reactions to the proposal. It tells us that our Maori culture, our knowledge, and our history are still treated as second class here in Aotearoa.”

Shane Jones is opposed. Does this mean they are saying Shane Jones is treating Maori as second class citizens? Surely not.

I’m with Shane on this one. But am still waiting to hear if even a single other Labour MP agrees with Shane.

Tags: , , ,

How can you sue to demand a higher donation?

February 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

In terms of fundraising, few organisations are in such a favoured position as the Westpac rescue helicopter service. Such is the high profile and obvious value of its work that Aucklanders respond readily and generously whenever money is sought. This degree of public goodwill should never be taken for granted, however. There will always be the strong risk of a backlash when ratepayers learn they can expect a $500,000 legal bill to defend a court case brought by the helicopter service.

That situation has arisen because the Auckland Regional Rescue Helicopter Trust is challenging plans to cut its annual operating grant from ratepayers from $900,000 to $450,000. Both the Auckland Council and the council-funded Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board, which determines the grants allotted to 10 rescue, safety, arts and cultural groups, are standing firm. The helicopter service, they say, has been incredibly successful at fundraising and is in an exceptionally sound financial position. It is ready to stand more on its own two feet.

I don’t have a particular view on what the level of funding should be. But I do have a strong view that this is effectively a donation, and that the recipients of a donation should not go to court to try and force a higher level of donation.

The Trust provides a valued service and does much good. But this lawsuit risks a lot of goodwill.

Tags:

Brown inquiry cost ratepayers $250,000

February 4th, 2014 at 6:50 pm by David Farrar

Simon Wilson at Metro reports:

The cost of the EY report into mayor Len Brown’s affair with Bevan Chuang has come in at around $250,000. That’s the word from reliable, well-placed sources close to the council.

It’s an outrageous amount, and the reason it is so high can be traced directly back to the council’s then-CEO, Doug McKay. It was McKay who ordered the inquiry and then allowed it to blossom into an investigation far in excess of what was originally intended.

He earlier stated the inquiry would cost around $75,000. Then in December, he told the council the final figure was not yet known but it would be “over $100,000”. The final figure of a quarter of a million dollars is so far above these estimates, it begs the question: why did he provide such low earlier estimates?

The answer to that is obvious, and I suspect Simon is being spun a line from Len’s office.

Len lawyered up and hired QCs and the like to try and derail the report.  Because Len was refusing to co-operate initially and threatening legal review, the Council was forced to hire a top QC also.

This inquiry would not have been needed if Len kept his private life away from the Council. If his affair had not occurred with a Council board member and contractor, had not used Council resources, had not involved liaisons in Council offices, and not had him getting free hotel rooms for the affair – then there would have been no Council investigation.

If Brown’s affair had been with Mrs Smith-Jones of Papakura and they met in their own time, in private residences or hotel rooms they paid for, then there is no way there would have been a Council inquiry.

Having Metro blame the poor Chief Executive for trying to save the reputation of the Council is obvious spin from Camp Len.

The only question now is how much of the $250,000 cost will Len pay, and how much will be left for ratepayers to pay. I think 50/50 would be equitable.

Tags: , ,

Berms being mowed again

February 3rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Transport has quietly backed down on mowing berms, but is skimping on the quality of grass-cutting.

After months of controversy and scruffy verges, the Auckland Council’s transport arm has resumed mowing berms where residents cannot do so, or refuse to.

But Auckland Transport will cut the grass only periodically, and to a lower standard than previously.

A quiet partial backdown.

Orakei councillor Cameron Brewer said he planned an amendment for the proper reinstatement of berm mowing, which could be funded from a special $101 million dividend from Auckland Airport, or internal savings.

“The policy has failed dismally and saved nothing. The silliness and constant fighting with the elderly, sick, migrants and those who don’t have a lawn mower has to stop,” he said.

My view is that the owner of the berm should be responsible for its mowing.

Tags:

Brown payment must be made public

January 27th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Expectations are rising for a settlement by Auckland Mayor Len Brown towards the $100,000-plus cost of a review into his extramarital affair to be made public.

Three of the five councillors negotiating a settlement – Chris Fletcher, George Wood and Dick Quax – believe it is the wish of the group to make the settlement public.

Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse and Penny Webster, the other two on the negotiating group, are staying quiet.

Mr Brown told the Herald last week that when councillors set up a group last month to enter into binding negotiations, the resolution was the settlement would be confidential.

Of course it must be made public. The Auckland Council is a public organisation and has public accounts, plus the payment could be requested under the LGOIMA. I’d be amazed if the Ombudsman ruled that such a payment could be deemed commercially sensitive or confidential.

We are still waiting to hear also the full cost of the inquiry. The legal fees incurred when the Mayor lawyered up are rumoured to be well in excess of the direct cost of the inquiry itself.

Tags: , ,

Auckland Council charges for pool inspections

January 26th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

aklpools

 

A reader has sent this in to me. They note:

Just got a letter today that informs me that the Auckland Council will now inspect my pool fencing every three years to make sure it is still there and charge me for the privilege. Revenue generating at its best.

Original inspection received sign-off. It cost a fortune to put in a steel fence. Current charge for initial inspection is $75 – I am OK with that and foolishly thought that was the end of it.

Now it will be inspected every three years at a higher cost of $125 per inspection. For now.

My points are:

  • Why follow up inspections? It is a metal fence set in concrete – we are hardly likely to lift it out of the ground
  • Why more expensive since it is just (supposedly) reaffirming it is still there so technically they could look from the top of our drive and view it rather than inspect it
  • Why can’t we just send in a photo showing it is still there – saves them a trip and us a lot of money

This is revenue generating pure and simple. It is a loose interpretation of Fencing of Swimming Pools Act 1987 section 10 (Every territorial authority shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that this Act is complied with within its district.)Exploitation of vague legislation seen as a revenue opportunity.

Since Len(it’s all about me) came in our rates have increased and services decreased as well as additional charges sneaking into the mix. This is snowballing and there seems to be no vehicle to challenge other than talk to a child at the call centre who sounded very sweet but “that picnic may be short of a sandwich” if you know what I mean. She struggled to know what to say and failed to find me anyone to talk to. Any suggestions for recourse?

The $75 initial charge does seem okay, but checking every three years the fence set in concrete is still there seems indeed just revenue generating – especially as they will cost more than the original check.

Tags:

Brewer’s trip was declared to the Council

December 23rd, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Cameron Brewer facebooked:

Auckland Council Electoral Officer and Public Information Officer Bruce Thomas has confirmed with Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer today that while he did not file a full “Register of Members’ Interests” annual statement by 30 June 2012, Brewer’s much criticised four-day sponsored trip to Australia was in fact declared by the Councillor for Orakei at the time and was subsequently in the Council gift register all along. 

In a surprise turn, Mr Thomas advised Mr Brewer in an email today that “You did however declare the Port Douglas trip and this was included in the gift register. A copy of the gift register was given to the Ernst Young Inquiry.”

In an email to Mr Thomas from Mr Brewer on 8 September 2011, Mr Brewer wrote “Bruce, please declare… 1 trip to Port Douglas courtesy of Mediaworks, Four nights in august. Value approximately 2k. Secondly, my partner and I are in SkyCity box for opening night and game tomorrow. Cost unknown. Please let me know what further information you require. Thanks Cameron” 

Mr Brewer was responding to an email by Mr Thomas titled ‘Code of Conduct – Declaration of Gifts’ he had sent to all elected representatives the day before on Wednesday 7 September 2011. 

The email read: “Dear Councillors and Local Board Members, with the Rugby World Cup about to start, I thought it prudent to remind you of your obligation to declare gifts in excess of $300. Some of the ticket and hospitality packages that you (and your partner) may be offered by a third party are likely to exceed $300. If you suspect this to be the case then you should advise myself and we will log it and ensure it is recorded as part of you declaration on 30 June 2012.”

Mr Brewer said he is very pleased to learn that he did in fact formally advise the council of the trip soon after his return, and that it was subsequently officially declared in the gift register. 

While procedurally Cameron still erred in not also doing the formal annual declaration, the substance is that he did disclose the gift to the Council.

What will be interesting is if it is revealed who informed the media (incorrectly) that the gift had not been disclosed? My money is on one of the six ratepayer funded spin doctors working for Len Brown.

The Herald reports:

“Given this information was put on the council gift register and was actually part of the Ernst Young review, I’m very disappointed that council staff didn’t give me and the media the correct information last week.”

Will the Herald now retract their editorial and story on Brewer?

Tags: , ,

Auckland Council scrutiny

December 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Mayor Len Brown will forgo some executive powers as he sets out to rebuild his political career after a decision by councillors to keep him on.

A subdued Mr Brown yesterday accepted the unanimous decision by his colleagues to censure him with a warning from supporters Ross Clow and Chris Darby he would be on thin ice if any other skeletons came out of the cupboard.

Mr Brown gave an assurance there was nothing else out there and made a commitment to work closer with councillors on a common agenda in the new year.

Really?

In a blog written at the meeting, Metro editor Simon Wilson said if Mr Brown could not lead the council he needed to find the courage and grace to step aside. “He’s reached that stage,” wrote Mr Wilson, who said the subtext of the mayor’s supporters was they no longer had confidence in him.

“Len Brown will soon be gone. It’s hard to see him lasting past Christmas.”

He’s lost Metro! Wilson is as left as they come, so that is significant.

The Herald does another editorial:

If Len Brown declined to make a move yesterday, there was not going to be a move. That was the harsh reality for Aucklanders, the majority of whom clearly want the mayor to resign, and the councillors who met to publicly censure him. Mr Brown’s obduracy duly carried the day as he refused to acknowledge that the standing and influence he once enjoyed had been shredded by conflicts of interest and inadequate explanations and apologies arising from inquiries into his two-year extramarital affair. …

Auckland has a mayor who is politically reined in, reputationally damaged and personally unlikely to regain residents’ respect. It also has a mayor who must, one day soon, realise his diminished mana cannot allow him to speak for all in the region. At one level, a right-wing councillor, Sharon Stewart, reveals Mr Brown’s reputation so troubled schools and churches in her community they found it hard to have him present awards. At another, left-wing commentator Chris Trotter doubts Mr Brown’s ability to be taken seriously in Wellington.

The mayor’s failure to acknowledge the reality of his position was starkly apparent when, offered a “right of reply” to the councillors’ decisions yesterday afternoon, he offered a few perfunctory thoughts that came across as insufficient and offhand. The contrition that even his council supporters desired remained out of reach.

The manner in which Mr Brown has brazened it out with the council and the people this week shows he doesn’t, really, get that his tide has gone out. The city needs a new leader.

The reality will maybe set it, when Brown doesn’t receive any invitations to address businesses, schools, community groups and the like. No group will want him as a guest speaker.

Meanwhile scrutiny goes on other Councillors:

Auckland councillor Cameron Brewer, who has been baying for Mayor Len Brown’s blood for not declaring gifts, has admitted not declaring a four-day junket to the Gold Coast.

Mr Brewer yesterday admitted taking free air tickets and accommodation paid for by MediaWorks, which runs TV3.

The right-wing councillor said he made a declaration of interests in 2011, but not in 2012, which would cover the period he went to Queensland.

The 2012 declaration of interests shows that Mr Brown and just nine of the 20 councillors filed returns.

All Councillors should be filing returns, even if they are nil returns. Maybe the requirement should become a legislative one so there can be consequences for not doing so.

And why was Mediaworks paying for a Councillor to go to Queensland? Maybe he won a competition?

UPDATE: It seems it was to talk to a marketing and sales conference, in his role as a former head of Newmarket Business Association.

UPDATE2: The Pants Down Brown song is now the No 1 selling country song on iTunes for NZ. You can buy a copy for just $1.79, for endless fun.

UPDATE3: The Dominion Post also calls for him to go:

Len Brown is done. The sooner he and the councillors who slapped him over the wrist with a wet bus ticket yesterday realise it, the sooner Auckland can get on with its business.

Mr Brown’s crime is not his extra-marital affair with a woman 25 years his junior. It is the way he has dealt with the affair becoming public and what has been revealed by the investigation into his conduct.

His attempts to paint himself as a victim and to duck responsibility for his actions have damaged his credibility. His breaking of Auckland City Council rules has damaged the reputation of the council. Pleading ignorance of the rules or that he was distracted by other matters is not an excuse. As mayor Mr Brown had a responsibility to acquaint himself with the rules and to abide by them.

And:

He, and his remaining supporters on the council, need to realise that Auckland is bigger than him. His continuing presence is an embarrassment and a distraction to the city he claims to love.He cannot impart a sense of direction to the city while he is ducking the public and avoiding the media. He cannot uphold standards for councillors when he has lowered them himself. And while questions persist about his conduct, the council cannot turn its attention to matters that actually concern Aucklanders. …

”You have sat too long for any good you have been doing,” Oliver Cromwell famously told the Rump Parliament in 1653. ”Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Mr Brown should heed the sentiment.He has broken the rules, lowered standards and lost the respect of the people he represents and the people he is required to deal with as mayor of the country’s largest city. He should resign.

Is there anyone at all saying he should stay? No, Brian Rudman doesn’t count.

Tags: , ,

Brown to be censured

December 17th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Mayor Len Brown has lost a firm grip on the Super City after an unprecedented message from councillors yesterday to shape up or ship out.

Councillor Dick Quax went one step further and called for the mayor to resign immediately, saying Aucklanders had lost confidence in Mr Brown, who stood to be paid $750,000 over the next three years for a lame-duck role.

The Mayor is doing almost no public meetings or functions. I think he will be surprised at how hostile a reception he will get when he does try and resume them.

The vast majority of councillors, however, decided to censure the mayor at Thursday’s council meeting, discuss Mr Brown meeting some costs for a $100,000-plus review into his behaviour and clip the wings of the mayoral office.

This will include greater oversight and control by councillors of the mayor and his office, which has wide powers, a $4 million budget and up to six spin doctors.

Brown has more spin doctors than the entire Labour parliamentary party.

The censure is actually very beneficial for Brown. If the Council had done nothing, then resentment would continue to build. The censure means there is a possibility of that being the end of the matter.

However there are still unanswered questions over the secret trip to Hong Kong, other people who have provided unofficial translation services for the Mayor, related LGOIMA requests etc.

Tags: ,

The costs of the Brown report

December 16th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says he will not pay any of the $100,000-plus costs of a damning review that found he failed to declare more than $39,000 in free hotel rooms and upgrades.

Mr Brown said he supported the review by council chief executive Doug McKay and agreed to the terms of reference, which cleared him of using council resources or providing preferential treatment in connection to his affair with Bevan Chuang.

But when it came to costs arising from the rest of the inquiry that found he received nine free hotel rooms worth $6130 and 64 upgrades worth $32,888.50, Mr Brown said that was something Mr McKay had pursued.

Mr Brown said he he would pay his personal costs for legal advice from Philip Skelton, QC, but would not pay any costs of the review.

Mr McKay has estimated the cost of the EY (Ernst & Young) review at $100,000-plus. Other associated costs include legal advice to the council by Crown Solicitor Simon Moore, QC.

Brown brought in his own QC and threatened the Council which had to hire a QC also. The legal costs on top of the EY costs will be significant.

Mr Brown has never apologised to the council for the two-year affair and showed little remorse on Friday when his free hotel rooms and upgrades were revealed.

He views the report as a vindication. No one fair who reads it could see it that way.

Tags: ,

Censure is the minimum for the Mayor with no contrition

December 15th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Secret talks are being held this weekend among Auckland councillors who say the city has been “humiliated” by the Len Brown affair and want the wayward mayor censured and his powers reined in.

The Sunday Star-Times understands a cross-party group of councillors has taken legal advice over what measures can be taken to censure Brown and to bring greater oversight to the mayoral office.

The code of conduct for the Council will be meaningless if the Council does nothing to enforce it.

But the Star-Times understands there is serious discontent with Brown and the EY report across party lines.

Some councillors who had been prepared to continue working with Brown for the benefit of Auckland were stunned by his lack of contrition after the report was released and believe some form of formal censure needs to be handed down. “There is an arrogance and a sense of entitlement there,” the councillor said.

Brown seems to think he has done absolutely nothing wrong. He has been exposed as someone who lied to the media, and did use Council resources for his affair – the phone calls, the limos etc.

The HoS also reports:

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.

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.

Strangely Labour have been silent on this. Imagine what they would be saying if the Mayor wasn’t a member of the Labour Party.

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”.

Bullshit. Chuang made the claim, and Brown denied it entirely. How is it credible that Chuang would have perfect recollection of it, yet Brown (the one who had the room booked and was responsible for paying it) would not.

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.”

Pansy Wong resigned for far less. Lianne Dalziel was sacked for a lie.

Also on another note, once again Brown laundered his donations through a trust:

By far Brown’s biggest donor, though, was the New Auckland Council Trust, which chipped in $273,375. The trust allows donors to hide their identities when they make contributions.

Brown’s campaign spokesman Lewis said the trust was not breaking any laws as many donations were made to the trust before rules around anonymous donations were changed.

They knew the law was changing, yet they still used a trust to keep their big donors secret. Did Sky City donate again?

 

Tags: ,

Brown must resign

December 13th, 2013 at 4:52 pm by David Farrar

Having now read the EY report commissioned by the Auckland Council Chief Executive, I believe Len Brown must resign as Mayor of Auckland. I only formed this view after reading the report, and did not believe what had previously been disclosed was substantial enough to warrant resignation.

But the report makes Clear that Len Brown publicly lied to the media and the public, and also that there were ratepayer resources used for his affair. Taking the findings one at a time:

The mayor used his council provided phone to make 1,375 calls and texts to Ms Chuang between 19 November 2010 and 21 October 2013, out of a total population of 13,797 calls and texts. Ms Chuang advises the mayor’s calls and texts to her were all of a personal nature. The mayor has advised two-thirds of the calls and texts he made to Ms Chuang were of a personal nature.

He even lied to EY. How could anyone think that a third of his calls and texts were work related, when she isn’t a Councillor or even a board member.

Personal use of mobile phones is permitted by the Elected Members Technology Policy and Guidelines. Costs relating to personal calls and texts are required to be reimbursed by the elected member in accordance with the policy. The mayor made one reimbursement of $263 for personal phone use on 25 October 2012 for the 2011/2012 period. No subsequent reimbursements have been made by the mayor.

10% of his total calls and texts as Mayor were to Chuang, and he only did one reimbursement. The ratepayers paid for all the other calls and texts. He should have done monthly reimbursements. He also is a fool for doing so many calls from his work phone – the staff who pay the bills would have noticed the same number cropping up. Brown should immediately repay the cost of all the calls and texts – but it is too late anyway. Only paying it back after the auditor finds it is not good enough for a Mayor – and he has form here.

Ms Chuang attended several functions as the mayor’s translator, mayor’s guest or as an Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel (“EPAP”) member where she provided translation services. We did not find any evidence that she was paid for providing these services by council. Ms Chuang has never been, and is currently not, included on the list of official translators maintained by council.

He only took her along as he was having an affair with her. He used his position as Mayor to further the affair. She was not an authorised translator.

The mayor, via one of his Diary Managers, provided a brief written email reference for Ms Chuang on 5 July 2011 in relation to her application for a role at Auckland Art Gallery. Earlier that day, the mayor made three phone calls to the Auckland Art Gallery Head of Development but was unsuccessful in speaking with her. The mayor has advised he provides references for people on a regular basis. Upon request, the mayor provided a number of character references and nomination support letters to us (for other people). However, these were not references for specific employment roles.

The fact he could not provide one example of another specific reference for a specific job implies he never has done such a reference before.  he even tried to call three times on her behalf. And worse it was for a job at a Council CCO. A clear example of using his power as Mayor to further the affair, or commence it.

It is a pity the EY review does not ask the Head of Development at the Auckland Art Gallery how much weight the reference from the Mayor played.

During the period of the mayor’s relationship with Ms Chuang, the mayoral vehicle and driver were used to transport Ms Chuang to her home after a number of official functions

Did anyone not sleeping with the Mayor get lifts home in the Mayoral limo? Another example of use of resources to further the affair.

The mayor has received nine complimentary (free) hotel rooms or suites which have not been registered as gifts or disclosed in his completed annual Declaration of Interests. The value of the complimentary rooms/suites based on rates provided by the hotels is $6,130.

He has broken the Council’s disclosure policy. Each room on average was worth almost $700. Even worse three of the rooms were at Sky City, and he of course was an advocate of the convention centre deal with them. That would get you before the Privileges Committee if he was an MP.

Stuff reports:

“I was not charged for nine of these hotel rooms, including one occasion in relation to Ms Chuang.

This confirms Len Brown lied to the media and the public. On 19 October the Herald reported:

Mr Brown also denied claims by Ms Chuang that some hotels rooms he booked for the pair were offered free of charge.

In a written statement to the Weekend Herald, the mayor’s head of communications, Dan Lambert, said: “He was not offered, or has accepted, free hotel stays in connection to the relationship and paid the standard rate out of his own pocket.

That is a direct lie, contradicted by the evidence.  He has only told the truth now because of the audit.

The mayor has received hotel upgrades (to better quality rooms or suites) which have not been registered as gifts or disclosed in his completed annual Declaration of Interests. A total of 64 such upgrades has been identified. The value of the upgrades based on rates
provided by the hotels is $32,888.50.

By itself, this would not necessarily be an issue. You may be unaware of the upgrade, or its cost. And upgrades get given to many people. Free rooms do not. But the combination of the free rooms combines with the upgrades to paint a picture of Brown receiving massive personal benefits from the hotels.

There is also the issue of why the Mayor has had to stay in an Auckland hotel on at least 64 occasions.  The reason offered of late nights and early starts is ridiculous. His home is in Totara Park, which is just 20 minutes from the CBD.

We did not identify any improper preferential treatment by the mayor in relation to Ms Chuang’s appointment to the EPAP, New Lynn Night market, Howick Local Board contracts and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (“ATEED”) services.

There may not have been preferential treatment, but it shows how involved Chuang was with the Council. She was not a purely private citizen. She was on a panel personally appointed by the Mayor, and had no less than three contracts with the Council. That is what you call a power imbalance.

Another possible lie:

On that night, the mayor advises us he had dinner in the hotel restaurant with the Mayoral Office staff member who accompanied him on the trip and a personal friend the mayor advises us he knows well. This person had been requested by the mayor to provide translation services on the Guangzhou extension (13 and 14 November 2011). No evidence of payment has been found for these translation services. The Mayoral Office staff member has advised us she has no recollection of the dinner or attending the dinner.

I believe the mayoral staff member. Len invented her presence at the dinner to justify charging it to the Council. I wonder how often this “personal friend” provided translation services for the Mayor, and was their selection on the same basis as his selection of Bevan Chuang?

No one can force Len to resign, but he has lied to the public and mis-used Council resources. He should resign. He can stand in the by-election if he thinks Auckland voters are okay with what he has done.

Also the Auckland Council needs to take action and at a minimum censure the Mayor for his use of Council resources and his failure to disclose gifts. They can’t do more than censure him, but they can at least do that.

Tags: , ,

Political neutrality and the public service

November 28th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by Jadis

What is going on in the Super City?

It’s hard to work out whether this is a failure in governance or management, but it is certainly another massive fail.  Yesterday a mild-mannered, Council bureaucrat called David Hay told us all that he is going to spend the next seven months campaigning to be the next male co-Leader of the Greens. By March he will need to have impressed the Hui that ranks their list,  and by June he will have sold himself to the whole membership for the big annual line dance.

Problem is that it seems Hay is going to fund his campaign through the ratepayers of Auckland – he is a senior policy advisor.

There’s a time honoured process where once every three years frustrated bureaucrats decide they don’t like having to do what they are told and try to get into Parliament. They stand down from their  pen pushing jobs, campaign, lose, and scurry back to a new public trough.

At central Government level the State Services Commission have a fascinating edict “State servants must keep their jobs out of their politics and their politics out of their jobs.”  Of course public servants can be involved in some campaigning, leaflet drops and the like but the political neutrality line is not to be crossed too much.  The Electoral Commission also has a view during election time.  Section 52 of the Electoral Act pertains to public servants seeking election and suggests that

To avoid the possibility of a real or perceived conflict of interest, the Electoral Act requires public servants that stand as candidates to take annual or unpaid leave from nomination day until the first working day after the election.

Now in Hay’s case, he is only seeking election to be the male co-Leader of the Greens however will he be campaigning on Council time? Is the important line of political neutrality of Council employees crossed by his action to seek the Greens co-Leadership?  Why is it even important?

It is important as Government and Council officials are required to give independent, non-partisan, objective advice. That is why public servants usually wait until the last minute to let their intentions be known – not a good year or so out.

Now that his name is out there, can anyone expect that Hay can use that year also giving objective, unbiased advice to Auckland Council. Everything he does could be trying to gain favour with the Greens membership.  Again, it is that “possibility of real or perceived conflict of interest” that will dog poor Mr Hay.

Which raises some questions, did he tell his bosses before he announced his highly political campaign? Did the bosses tell the Mayor? Did anyone think… hold on a minute, this is a massive problem for the credibility Auckland Council?

My guess – no, no, no.

Rest assured though, by next week they will have expensive lawyers arguing with each other, crawling all over it and charging the long suffering ratepayer for the pleasure.

Tags: , , ,

Auckland Council confirms Brown breached disclosure rules

November 28th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Bernard Orsman at NZ Herald reports:

Len Brown’s office last night confirmed that the Auckland Mayor has not complied with the council code of conduct rules over a trip to Hong Kong.

Responding to an urgent request under official information laws by the Herald, Mr Brown’s chief of staff, Phil Wilson, owned up after chief executive Doug McKay allowed the issue to simmer for two days.

Mr Wilson said he understood Mr Brown did not file an annual return of interests by July 31 under the code of conduct because it was under review at the time.

“As a consequence, elected members – and myself on Len’s behalf – did not file returns understanding they would be requested to do so at a later date,” Mr Wilson said.

Mayors should lead by example. The excuse for not filing is bloody weak.

Mr Brown went to Hong Kong on official business in January without telling councillors. The trip only came to light when Mr Brown’s two-year affair with Bevan Chuang hit the headlines last month.

The mayor has refused to answer questions about the six-day trip, but his office said he travelled alone as one of three international guests of a Hong Kong Government-funded “special visitors programme”.

Ms Chuang told the Herald that she had remained in New Zealand.

Two Auckland businessmen, Tim Ashton and Nick Love, said after they got off the same flight as Mr Brown, they saw the mayor and an Asian woman ahead talking together.

A source said the woman was an official who met Mr Brown when he got off the plane.

If the Mayor was invited in his capacity as Mayor, he can’t refuse to answer questions about the trip. Celia Wade-Brown no only notified her Council of a similiar trip, but reported back to them afterwards on it.

Tags: ,

Auckland Ports threatening to sue their owner

November 21st, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Ports of Auckland has hired top lawyer Mai Chen to help it in a row with the Auckland Council over measures to reclaim more of the Waitemata Harbour.

Ports chief executive Tony Gibson and Ms Chen met Mayor Len Brown in September to try to avoid starting legal action against their owner. Another meeting is set for today.

After councillors agreed in August to make further reclamation of the harbour a “non-complying” activity in the draft Unitary Plan, Ms Chen told the mayor’s office the move wasillegal.

She said it breached the Resource Management Act and the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, which sets out councils’ planning requirements for the efficient and safe operation of ports.

Ms Chen said the ports company would contest the legality of the resolution in a submission on the draft plan unless the council amended the resolution.

A CCO threatening to sue the Council that owns it, is not a good look. I’d be very nervous if I was a company director in that situation.

Tags: ,

The Brown inquiry

November 19th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An Auckland Council review of any use of council resources by Mayor Len Brown in his affair with Bevan Chuang is taking longer than expected.

After the council said the review by Ernst & Young would be reported back to chief executive Doug McKay as “quickly as possible” and in no more than four weeks, the deadline passed yesterday with word it is still several weeks away.

A council spokesman said work on the review was ongoing and thorough and the findings were expected to be published “within weeks”. The original deadline of four calendar weeks was a best guess at the time, the spokesman said.

I think it is better the review is thorough than rushing to meet an artificial deadline.

Last night, Ms Chuang – a member of the council’s Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel – said she had been interviewed for the review.

Mr Brown has admitted providing a reference for Ms Chuang for a job at the council-owned Auckland Art Gallery at the start of their two-year affair, saying it was a fairly typical reference done at a time when he had not known her for long.

The inquiry will I hope test those claims. How many references has he provided in the last three years, and how many were for jobs at Auckland Council or a CCO? And how many of them involved not just a written reference but a verbal reference also.

It is not clear if the inquiry will canvass her claims that some of the hotel rooms he booked for the pair were offered free by hotel managers. Mr Brown has said any expenses he incurred were paid out of his own pocket.

Some people, including activist and mayoral candidate Penny Bright and Herald columnist Fran O’Sullivan, have called for the inquiry to probe the hotel claims.

According to O’Sullivan, undeclared freebies leave any politician open to the suggestion, fair or unfair, by opponents that they have been bought and because of the potential for unconscious bias.

In Mr Brown’s case, Ms Chuang said she was taken to the Langham, Hilton and SkyCity Grand hotels.

The mayor has been a vocal supporter of the SkyCity pokies for convention centre deal.

Chuang was quite certain that they had received freebies, but Brown says they did not. The only way to clear the matter up is for the inquiry to ask the hotels. An alternative could be for Brown to show his bank or credit card statements for the nights they were together.

Considering that his wife could well see any charges for hotel rooms, I would not be surprised if he did accept any freebies.

Tags: , ,

Are Councils fibbing in response to official information requests

November 12th, 2013 at 10:30 am by David Farrar

The Taxpayers Unions blogs:

It appears that the councils of two of our largest cities do not take freedom of information laws seriously. As a constitutional lawyer and advocate for government transparency, I am deeply saddened.

Cost of Wellington City Council’s website – $317,726 or $1.7million? Depends who’s asking…

Last week the Taxpayers’ Union criticised Marlborough City Council for spending $410,000 on web design and development. We made a feature of it on our website and our analysis was even covered in the local paper. We thought the amount was outrageous – ‘$100,000 more than Wellington City’s award winning website’.

We were wrong. Though the Wellington City Council told us it had spent $317,726, it had told someone else it had spent $1.7million on the same wellington.govt.nz site. Though we’ve written (and spoken) to the Council’s CEO, the inconsistency has not been explained. We’ve posted the two information request responses, as well as the ‘please explain’ letterhere.

When a Council provides too massively different figures for the cost of their website, that’s a very bad look. Far too many Councils seem to have an attitude that LGOIMA requests are a matter of voluntary compliance, not law.

But Auckland Council seems to be playing games also, denying a trip even occurred:

We asked Auckland Council about a mayoral trip to China – officials suggested the trip never happened

Over some months, a number of Taxpayers’ Union volunteers have made official information requests relating to items of sensitive expenditure such as credit cards and international travel.

We had a tip that related to inappropriate credit card expenditure by the interpreter who accompanied Auckland’s Mayor on a trip to China in January or February 2013. We made an official information request to Auckland Council to identify the Council official so we could review the expenses.

Because we did not know the precise dates of the January/February 2013 trip, but understood that it was the Mayor’s most recent trip to China, we couched the request in those terms.

The Council’s response and the attachment is here and here. They refers to the identity of an interpreter who travelled with the Mayor on a trade delegation to China in April 2012. No mention is made of the early 2013 trip.

On Friday afternoon, the Taxpayers’ Union spoke to an official at the Auckland Council who confirmed that the Council misled us.

Again, it just isn’t good enough.

The other issue I have noticed with some Councils is that they have a policy where they will charge for any LGOIMA request that takes more than 30 minutes to respond to, regardless of how reasonable it is. Charging should be for requests which are hugely excessive, not for any time over half an hour.

Tags: , , ,

Lengate losers and winners

October 18th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Normally I call these posts winners and losers but in this case there are far more losers than winners. Let’s take them in approximate order.

Losers

  1. Len Brown. May keep his job but not his credibility or dignity. If he holds on he is a lame duck Mayor who will face three years of people tittering about him at public events. No real chance  of winning a third term. Faces weeks or more of investigations into whether there was improper spending, his providing a reference to Chuang etc.
  2. Luigi Wewege. Exposed as a liar, and someone who uses a romantic relationship to pressure his partner into political favours. Now a household name in a bad way. Political future is non-existent.
  3. Bevan Chuang. She’s had her criminal history exposed, her love life, and her employment history, Worse, she did it all voluntarily with a giggling tape recording of her exploits with Brown, and a sworn affidavit. While she attracts a lot of sympathy as being somewhat naive, she also has no political future.
  4. Jock Anderson. Fired as NBR Chief Reporter for writing an editorial supporting Brown keeping his job against alleged instructions for NBR to take a neutral line on the issue.
  5. John Palino. Palino has done nothing wrong, and I do not believe for a second he knew anything of this. However the actions of Wewege have created a perception that will leave doubts with some. An unfortunate victim, who might have been Mayor if the affair had been exposed before the election.
  6. The threatening texter. The person who sent the threatening text to Chuang pushed this issue into the open. A huge backfire. Will their identity be revealed, and who may they damage by association when it comes out?
  7. The voters of Auckland. They have to wait three years (unless Brown resigns) to have their say on whether they found the behaviour acceptable.

Winners

  1. Cameron Slater. As the Civilian points out Whale likes nothing more than page views and visits. He’s had 750,000 page views in two days. He not only broke the story, but covered himself by insisting on tape recordings and sworn affidavits. Cameron doesn’t want to be liked – he wants to be relevant, and this week he has set the news.
  2. Cameron Brewer. Brewer wisely didn’t contest the 2013 Mayoral elections. He must now be a front-runner for 2016.
  3. Penny Hulse. She doesn’t want the job, but if Brown resigns she is the most likely candidate for the left, and could well end up Mayor. Will depend who stands against her.

In terms of the story itself, the Herald reports:

Bevan Chuang is confident Len Brown will be cleared by a spending inquiry in the wake of their extra-marital affair, saying he paid for everything out of his own pocket.

However, she believed that some of the rooms he booked for the pair were offered free of charge by hotel managers. …

Ms Chuang said she met Mr Brown three times at the Langham, SkyCity Grand and Hilton hotels for sex after collecting the keys to the rooms from reception at the Town Hall.

A spokeswoman for the Hilton said the hotel would not give complimentary rooms to Mr Brown, while a spokeswoman for SkyCity Grand would not comment on guests for privacy reasons. A spokesman for the Langham did not return a phone message. …

The 32-year-old former mistress said: “He sometimes takes some time off and goes to hotel rooms, and quite a few times managers would tell him ‘it’s fine, 

it’s on us. We can organise somewhere private for you’.

“He often feels uncomfortable and wanted to go down and pay but usually the manager would [insist] ‘no no, it’s on us’.”

The rooms also came with antipasto food platters and nuts, she said.

Ms Chuang believed the rooms were offered free to Mr Brown so that he could “talk about” and “recommend it” for council patronage.

I think the only thing which might be worse than having had the Council pay for hotel rooms for the trysts with your mistress, was if the hotels were providing free rooms for the trysts. It’s like he’s the Prime Minister of Italy.

Just imagine if Sky City were providing free hotel rooms for Mayoral trysts, at the same time as Len Brown was backing the convention centre deal with them? Hard to argue that is not a public issue.

Mr Brown would check-in at the hotel himself and then arrange for a spare room key to be delivered back to the council in an envelope addressed to Ms Chuang.

Ms Chuang, who also speaks Cantonese and Mandarin, claimed Mr Brown used the mayoral car and driver to pick up and drop her off on two occasions when he took her to council dinners as his interpreter.

Again, hard to argue that this isn’t use of Council resources.

In another story the Herald reports:

Auckland Mayor Len Brown and council chief executive Doug McKay are refusing to answer key questions arising from the mayor’s extra-marital affair with Bevan Chuang, including whether he breached the council’s code of conduct.

The two most powerful figures at the council have stonewalled the Herald for two days on whether Mr Brown has broken council rules and what the rules are for council staff having sex in the workplace. …

Mr Brown and Mr McKay also refused to say if Ms Chuang had a council contract at the New Lynn market. She claimed to be paid $500 a week by the council as a co-ordinator at the market.

So if I have this right:

  • Chuang was a Mayoral appointee to the Ethnic Panel – personally appointed and re-appointed by the Mayor
  • Chuang gained a job at a Council CCO after the Mayor provided her with a glowing reference
  • Chuang has a Council contract as a market co-ordinator

Again, makes it very hard to argue this is entirely a private matter.

The questions

Len Brown and council chief executive Doug McKay have yet to answer the following:

• Did [Mr Brown's actions providing a reference for Bevan Chuang] comply with the Council Code of Conduct, including the Conflicts of Interest Policy and the guidelines of the Office of the Auditor-General?

• Did the mayor seek advice from the chief executive or the Office of the Auditor-General before deciding to provide a reference or act as a referee?

• Did the mayor provide any other references/act as a referee for Ms Chuang on other occasions?

• Has Ms Chuang been contracted by the council in any other capacity, including the New Lynn market?

• What are the rules around council staff having sex in the workplace?

Len’s now cancelled all appointments for two days in a row. The story will not go away until he fully fronts, and these questions are answered,

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

6,000 new homes for Auckland

October 10th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Sarah Harvey at Stuff reports:

Up to 6000 new homes will be built in 10 areas of Auckland in the first step by the Government and Auckland Council to try to solve Auckland’s housing crisis.

The announcement today of the Special Housing Areas, by Auckland Mayor Len Brown and Housing Minister Nick Smith, comes after the Government and council this year signed an accord to run through until 2016 to increase the number of quality affordable homes in Auckland.

Smith said today land supply was the most “critical issue” when it came to addressing housing supply and affordability in Auckland. The first batch of land was a “significant step towards the Auckland Housing Accord’s target of consenting for 39,000 new homes over three years”.

The special housing areas announced today are in Papakura, East Tamaki, Pukekohe, Hobsonville, Kumeu, West Harbour and Orakei.

Excellent. Freeing up land and making it easier for new houses to be built is badly needed.

Applications for subdivisions would be considered by council under fast-tracked mechanisms. These aimed to deliver approvals within six months for greenfield developments, compared to the current average of three years, and three months for brownfield developments, compared to the current average of one year.

This will help allow supply to match demand, rather than lag behind it.

The Bankers’ Association said today’s announcement was a positive step in addressing the housing supply issue in Auckland.

Association chief executive Kirk Hope said the big issue in the Auckland housing market was a lack of supply.

“Freeing up land for housing is a move in the right direction to help improve supply where it’s needed and alleviate pressure on house prices.”

All the independent analysis of the housing cost issue has concluded that the major increase in cost has been the land.

Tags: ,

Auckland mayoralty polling

October 4th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Horizon have released a exit poll showing John Palino only 4% behind Len Brown in the Auckland mayoralty.

Before people get too excited by this, I would point out Horizon’s final pre-election poll in 2011 had Labour winning the general election and only 5% behind National (in fact they got 20% behind National).

An August UMR poll had the gap at 23% (47% to 14%).

Could things have changed that much in the last six weeks? We’ll find out in a week when the results come in.

Tags: , ,