It is unfortunate that this matter has so quickly split along party lines. Though not completely. For example Cllr Mike Lee was quoted in NZ Herald this morning expressing concerns: "there's an aura of sleaze starting to build around the mayor now and that's the problem"......
I want to suggest in this post, that Councillors need to consider what or who they are casting their vote for on Thursday. I say this because I don't believe Councillors can vote according to promises they may have made in the election campaign. Nor can they vote according to their own personal interests (eg whether they are supported to be Chair of a committee by Mayor Brown or not) or political interests - whatever they may be. This issue was not canvassed before the election - so there was not an opportunity for councillors to develop a "position" on this matter before the election.
This is de novo. It is being considered for the first time.
In significant measure, because this matter is not provided for in statute, it is a conscience vote. Councillors need to examine their consciences, and in some way, take account of the conscience of the Auckland community.
Promises and Fiscal Responsibility
In 2010, when Len Brown stood for the Supercity mayoralty for the first time, his 150 word statement to the voters said this:
“…The region needs a mayor who believes in communities and people, so that together we can make the hard decisions to move our region forward….”Good hard-hitting stuff. Note the emphasis on hard decisions. Then in 2013 he said this in his 150 words:
"....Ratepayers want a fiscally responsible mayor...."
When you say this, knowing it is the main piece of information that will definitely be provided to everybody who can vote, you have to think about what it means to the layperson voter. While it does not explicitly say: "I am a fiscally responsible person", it certainly implies it and suggests that if you vote for Len Brown you will get a fiscally responsible mayor.
The record that has been painfully revealed by the EY report does not paint a picture of a fiscally responsible mayor. The record, combined with other credit card irresponsibilities in his term as Mayor of Manukau City Council, suggests if anything a systematic lack of fiscal responsibility.
Unreserved Apologies and Censure Motions
If I had a dollar for every apology I've heard from a politician I'd be a rich man. It's just words.
And words come cheap for a politician. It's their stock-in-trade.
Goes with the territory.
Trying to win over support for an idea, for a vision, for a project, for a political reputation.
Whatever it takes.
A censure motion might feel good for councillors.
A whack. A rap over the knuckles. A momentary grimace.
Forcing someone to swallow the odd dead rat. In public.
But it goes with the territory too.
It's hot, but it's what happens in the political kitchen.
But it won't make any difference.
Len has done the mea culpa act before,
And he's showing he's more than ready to do it again.
Probably written tomorrow's apology speech already, rehearsed it with his closest allies
Those who stand to lose the most if he stops being mayor.
Is Len a bad man?
I don't think Len is a bad man. But he's probably too nice, too forgiving, too forgetful, to be a mayor we can have confidence in. If someone else - another councillor say - had a problem with an affair (using Council furniture after hours), being late to declare an expense, using the council cellphone a bit much, charging excessive travel expenses - I can see Mayor Brown finding it hard to confront that Councillor - finding the least confrontational way of dealing with it, being nice, being forgiving, and if all else fails just forgetting it.
Small beer anyway. Tiny amounts in the scale of things.
Problem is, this fiscal attitude seems to be behind Council's odd extra billion in debt. Just another billion.
Auckland may be a big little city, but it's a big bad city too - especially if Council is too nice, too forgiving and just plain forgetful. And unless the right attitudes are modelled top down, and enforced top down, the rot sets in. Len was right: Auckland does need a mayor who is a zealot about fiscal responsibility - and he has shown himself to be relaxed when it comes to his own fiscal responsibility.
It makes it very difficult for Auckland Council to be effective if its mayor preaches something which he does not personally practice.
Kingdom of Len
I couldn't really resist this. I imagined Len with his most trusted mayoral office aides and spin-doctors. He's frustrated with them, wanting some creativity, another brand....
"Look. When I got elected there were jokes. They talked about King Len - you know - Auckland is a Kingdom. Needs a King. I was Auckland's King. For a while...."
Perplexed looks. Len pressed on....
"Now I know Auckland's not an Empire, and it would be hard to make me look like an Emperor. But it could work I think. Empires need Emperors..."
One of the aides thought about trousers and emperors wearing no clothes but thought better of it. His job was on the line. Nothing in his Christmas Stocking if Len got the sack. Len, warming up...
"I've had a better idea. Auckland was the first supercity. We've forged ahead of the rest of New Zealand. We're different. We're like - another Country. Auckland's a Country, and just as Kingdoms need Kings, Countries need......"
What's the best thing to do?
A Censure motion is a wet bus ticket - and Auckland has enough of them right now.
If Councillors pass a censure motion, what it really means is that Len is Mayor (along with his mayoral office and with the chairs and deputy mayor he wants) for three more years - with all of the difficulties and challenges that brings - and that is not what Auckland wants (if you believe the various polls as reflecting the will of the population).
Remember. This is de novo. Auckland has not been here before. There is no position statement that was developed before the election. This decision must be taken on the basis of facts and information that is now before councillors - and this information was not before the public when they cast their votes on October.
It is before them now. The information that is before the Auckland public now makes Len's statement: "ratepayers want a fiscally responsible mayor" a bit hard for them to swallow.
So. Councillors need to ask themselves this question:
Are you going to vote so that Aucklanders have to swallow a rat?
Or are you going to vote so that Len has to swallow that rat.
Note what the Local Government Electoral Act states:
Were voters able to cast an informed vote when they voted Len Brown for Mayor?
(1) The principles that this Act is designed to implement are the following:
(a) fair and effective representation for individuals and communities:
(b) all qualified persons have a reasonable and equal opportunity to—
(i) Cast an informed vote......
My suggestion for a more useful motion tomorrow would be something like this:
That, given the loss of public confidence in the office of mayor that has followed publicity and investigative reports relating to the mayor's conduct of his affair and his subsequent behaviour, and to avoid the risk of public confidence in Auckland Council being diminished by association and by the need to manage damaged relationships for the rest of the term, and to give the mayor the opportunity to properly redeem and rehabilitate himself, this council calls on the Mayor of Auckland to resign forthwith to enable a new mayoral election to take place.
This is difficult. Kia kaha.