13 Dec 2013

Auckland mayor didn't declare hotel rooms

9:39 pm on 13 December 2013

Auckland mayor Len Brown is describing as an oversight his failure to declare free and upgraded hotel rooms worth nearly $40,000 and says he won't be resigning.

The findings of a report released on Friday stem from an independent review commissioned by Auckland Council chief executive Doug McKay after the married mayor admitted in October this year that he had a two-year affair with Bevan Chuang, a former member of a council advisory panel.

Len Brown.

Len Brown. Photo: RNZ

Auditors Ernst and Young found that no inappropriate council spending related directly to the affair, other than a large number of calls and texts on Mr Brown's council mobile phone.

However, in a wider look at the mayor's use of hotel rooms, the review found that he had accepted nine complimentary rooms and 64 upgrades, including three free rooms at SkyCity - none of which were declared as gifts as required.

Len Brown's failure to declare the accommodation breaches the elected representatives code of conduct, however there are no specified penalties in the code.

Mr Brown previously said he had noted being given hotel rooms. He said that he paid for any rooms used during the relationship and that no ratepayers' money had been spent.

Of the nine free hotel rooms, he said one occasion was in relation to Ms Chuang. However, he said he never used council resources for private accommodation, or in relation to her, and does not hold a council credit card.

The mayor admitted on Friday that he should have declared the gifts to the council, and a discussion with Auditor-General Lyn Provost has brought clear advice on the free rooms. "Her advice was, 'Well, you shouldn't'. So we're a lot wiser in hindsight," he said.

Mr Brown said it was an oversight and blamed a heavy workload and a focus on other matters.

"My sole and total focus - probably way too much - has been on basically bringing this city together and uniting all of our communities, getting plans into place, keeping a political organisation going in the same direction, working with over 8500 employees."

Len Brown said while political opponents might call for him to resign, he believes Aucklanders want him to stay and get on the job. "They felt that it was time to move on with Auckland, rather than get completely enmeshed in in what has been going on in the last week or two."

But one opponent, councillor Dick Quax, stopped short of calling for the mayor's resignation but told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Friday that Mr Brown needs to consider his position.

"If he were a minister of the Crown, the Prime Minister of the country would whip his warrant so quickly his head would spin. But it seems that the mayor of Auckland can get away with all sorts of shenanigans. Well, I think the mayor needs to consider his position and the position of the Auckland Council."

Mr Quax said the failure to declare resembles Mr Brown's personal use of a Manukau City Council credit card three years ago. "He dramatically cut up the council credit card and said he'd learnt his lesson - he clearly hasn't learnt his lesson."

Len Brown will face councillors publicly at a council meeting next Thursday.

Meanwhile, SkyCity said it provided free upgrades to the mayor because, as an ambassador for the city, the company thought it was important that he experienced nicer rooms. SkyCity said it also provided Mr Brown with three free rooms for one night in September 2011.