Ratepayers cover a $566 laundry bill and a $1.75 snack

3:29 pm on 1 March 2018

Analysis - Should Auckland ratepayers be paying for the overseas laundry bills of its highest paid executives?

It's one of the big questions from a trawl through the minutiae of travel receipts released by the Auckland Council "family".

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Photo: nito500/123RF

The receipts reveal interesting differences in the expense-claiming habits of executives at the council and its agencies.

The stand-out claim is that of Roger MacDonald, the chief executive of the council's property development agency Panuku.

On two trips to Hong Kong and Shanghai last year, Mr MacDonald - who has a salary of more than $550,000 - claimed hotel expenses, including $566 for personal laundry.

Mr MacDonald arrived in New Zealand from the UK 15 months ago, and missed the 1990s benchmark performance by then-Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash, who washed his own socks and underwear while travelling.

"The Reserve Bank's travel policy guidelines to staff required people to treat taxpayers' money as they would their own money," Dr Brash said in a later interview.

"The reality is you can pay a fortune to get very simple laundry done at a hotel - and I regard that as simply outrageous."

Mr MacDonald has re-considered his claim. Two days after RNZ queried it with Panuku, the agency said the chief executive "felt it appropriate he should pay for these expenses himself."

A meticulous and transparent claimant was Brett O'Riley - the well-regarded and recently-departed chief executive of ATEED, the council's events and economic development agency - who is on a salary of about $390,000.

Mr O'Riley's individual claims are detailed down to sums as small as $2 for parking - money that at least remains in the council family, going to Auckland Transport. He is not alone on that claim among the wider executive group.

RNZ queried $59 claimed on one date for Auckland Transport parking, and ATEED said it was due to Mr O'Riley's car remaining overnight in a carpark after an event.

The smallest declared item is a $1.75 snack, bought in Venice by the director of the Auckland Art Gallery, Rhana Devonport.

Cafes figure strongly in the smaller sums claimed, the purpose often described as "business development".

Even meetings between executives within the council family have been held in cafes at ratepayer expense. One between a council and a Panuku executive cost $13.50 at a caffeine haunt favoured by council staff.

Conspicuously absent from the list is the top executive of them all, Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town.

Mr Town - who is on a salary of $690,000 - made no overseas trips, nor claimed for any expenses in the year.

Executives travelling overseas are entitled to fly business class at the ratepayer's expense on journeys longer than eight hours, and almost all do. Except, in the returns, Watercare head Raveen Jaduram.

Mr Jaduram flew to a conference in Madrid last year, with the conference organiser paying an economy airfare. The chief executive upgraded to business class, but paid the difference himself.

* Declaration : The writer has claimed sums as small as $2 for parking. During a six-week assignment covering the America's Cup in Bermuda, all laundry was done in a hand-basin in the writer's modest, rented granny-flat.