Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: We need to talk about Len

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  • Russell Brown, in reply to wendyf,

    Well said, Susan. I don’t think much of his personal behaviour either. But the last few years have cheered me up, watching my old student days’ city shed the will-we-won’t-we return to trolley buses/ open up the harbour front/ celebrate diversity/ disease.

    There's a sense that the city is growing up, finding identities, laying plans for the future. It's far from perfect, but the idea of surrendering it all to the likes of Cameron Brewer is extremely dispiriting.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22749 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Good that the councillors are using the opportunity of the mayor’s indiscretions to try and forge more workable relationships.

    If that's what it takes, Len Brown can fuck me fifty ways to Friday and I'll spring for the motel rooms as an act of public service. Otherwise, that's just damn depressing. What the hell have you people been doing all this time, Sandra?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • jb,

    Free upgrades
    If you’re a member of an airline/hotel/car rental group’s loyalty plan and your spend with them reaches a defined level, you’ll get free upgrades. (I get them with the Marriott group)
    Free nights
    Same as above. I’ve currently got 3 waiting to be used.

    The key issue is whether these were gained in a private capacity or in his capacity as mayor.
    If the former, it’s none of anyone’s business.
    If his spend with the hotel group was paid from public funds, then the accrued benefits should revert to those funds. Most major companies have ethical guidelines that require this.

    If the free nights weren’t formally associated with a loyalty plan and were simply gifts (with the assumed intent of keeping him onside), then surely this borders on corruption or – at the very least- gaining pecuniary advantage from his position as a public servant.

    Christian Wulff, Germany’s former President, is currently in court facing charges of exactly that: allegedly accepting hotel accommodation to the value of under €1000 in exchange for pushing some business in the vague direction of his benefactor.

    Seriously – doesn’t New Zealand’s justice system have a law that addresses this issue?

    a.small.town.in.germany • Since Jan 2007 • 86 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to jb,

    The key issue is whether these were gained in a private capacity or in his capacity as mayor.
    If the former, it’s none of anyone’s business.
    If his spend with the hotel group was paid from public funds, then the accrued benefits should revert to those funds. Most major companies have ethical guidelines that require this.

    Really? One of the few things that has made my wife's extensive work travel over the last year bearable is the approximately thirty bajillion hotel points she's gotten (which translate to free nights, and, yes, free upgrades for our personal travel.) Her company (and industry) definitely seems to consider that a way to partially compensate people for having to do that much travel, there's never been any question of the points reverting to the company - and in fact they couldn't, since they're associated with a loyalty account under her name. I suppose it might be different in a situation where the person gaining the points also had the final say on whether and where they traveled, but where the travel is mandated I have a difficult time seeing it as an ethical question.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • jb,

    Her company (and industry) definitely seems to consider that a way to partially compensate people for having to do that much travel

    I should have said “ many major companies”, but the same principle applies: if the company’s paying, the benefits revert to the company (and shareholders) unless – as in your wife’s case – it’s deemed as part of the package.
    In LB’s case, there’s a clear need to differentiate between taxpayer-paid and privately-paid accommodation and the accrued benefits.

    a.small.town.in.germany • Since Jan 2007 • 86 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    From The Herald today:

    Recommendation for Thursday's council meeting

    [...]

    *The governing body now signals its willingness to work with the mayor and establish better liaison between the mayor's office and governing body in the best interests of Auckland and its people.

    What we really need to be talking about are elected councillors who've basically (and unwittingly) admitted they don't have "functional relationships" with each other or the Mayor. What the fuck have these people been doing on the public tit all this time, and isn't it just a little rich blaming it all on Len Brown's wandering cock?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    I guess I have a general problem with any anonymous political donations. People can make perfectly honest political donations, but equally they can expect a quid pro quo. If you're genuine you have nothing to hide, if you're not we ought to know. It seems to me that anonymous donations are relic of a corrupt past, the excuse that it's to hard to do the paper work is old, just doing everything online gives you an instant paper trail ready to export for public notification.

    I've donated to a couple of different political parties when something they've done has pleased me. If I've used their website they seem to use it as an excuse to send me importuneous mails in the future asking for more money.

    I've taken to ignoring their requests, and yet still occasionally dropping random acts of cash on them. Last time I dropped a hundred bucks in the cash kitty for raffle tickets without taking any tickets, (because I didn't want to be marked in their little black book of easy marks).

    I also loathe how difficult it is to donate to people without being tracked by my bank. It's none of their business who I give money to. I don't want to do everything on line.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to jb,

    If the free nights weren’t formally associated with a loyalty plan and were simply gifts (with the assumed intent of keeping him onside), then surely this borders on corruption or – at the very least- gaining pecuniary advantage from his position as a public servant.

    It borders, for sure. But it's not automatic. There is perfectly sound financial reasons that have nothing more sinister in them than influencing the Mayor's next choice of a hotel to stay in. He's obviously a guy who spends a lot of time in hotels, so you chuck him free stuff. Not to mention it looks good for the hotel to have high profile people staying there. I can well imagine the lowly people checking him in making the call "Jeebers, you can't put the Mayor of the whole city in that pokey room when this nicer one is free! Offer him an upgrade"

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to jb,

    I should have said “ many major companies”, but the same principle applies: if the company’s paying, the benefits revert to the company (and shareholders) unless – as in your wife’s case – it’s deemed as part of the package.

    Mmm, maybe I should be clearer. It's not a formal part of the package. It's that no-one seems to think there is any question that the benefits (loyalty points) *would* revert to the company - it's a consultancy, so the travel is paid for out of each contract the travel is for, rather than by the company per se. Still having a hard time seeing it as a big ethical deal, though, in the "reverting to the shareholders" sense. The shareholders aren't exactly going to be using the points.

    It borders, for sure. But it’s not automatic. There is perfectly sound financial reasons that have nothing more sinister in them than influencing the Mayor’s next choice of a hotel to stay in. He’s obviously a guy who spends a lot of time in hotels, so you chuck him free stuff.

    More specifically, upgrades usually don't cost hotels anything, or very little directly, because they're just putting someone in a room that was otherwise empty. They usually amount to extra space and maybe nicer furnishings - from the customer's perspective there's not any actual financial benefit to having it, it just makes you feel better-inclined towards the hotel. It's not really the stuff corruption is made of.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    Sorry, I refuse to give Len Brown a free bus ticket, given that he backs destructive attacks on Manukau City street sex workers, many of whom are transgender and therefore part of my LGBT community through backing the Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places), as well his council's anti-beggar bans.

    Critical scrutiny of Brown's unethical actions is therefore justifiable. I don't think he should be forced out of office merely for extramarital sex, but misuse of council funds does render the issue more serious.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 564 posts Report Reply

  • Alec Morgan, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Craig “sniper” Ranapia got a huge laugh finally out of me on this one. It really is “Bonfire of the Vanities” territory when you add in the squigglings of a huge supporting cast and several bizarre extras. Have never been a Len supporter particularly after the Ports of Auckland debacle but do feel Rodders zeal has come back to bite him.

    Wendyf’s link about Dove-Meyer was quite poignant really,
    http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5r19/robinson-dove-myer

    Tokerau Beach • Since Nov 2006 • 121 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to BenWilson,

    here is perfectly sound financial reasons that have nothing more sinister in them than influencing the Mayor’s next choice of a hotel to stay in.

    In most of the cases,- where Len didn't book the hotel himself anyway, and was a very regular visitor- it just seems weird to think it remotely out-of-order that he'd get upgrades- and/or the odd freebie.
    In the case of Sky City, where it seems he didn't regularly stay, it's different (and not good.)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    where Len didn’t book the hotel himself anyway

    He probably doesn’t, but I’m sure he’d mention to whomever makes the bookings what his preferences were. And when you’re making bookings, it’s pretty remiss not to get the best deal you can for the money you’re allotted. So if one place is giving more freebies than the other, then it makes sense to take it.

    It’s not “nothing to see here” territory though. There is a boundary where too many gifts become a form of corruption. I’m not really sure where it is. If they were supplying him with endless champagne, caviar and hookers in the penthouse suite, then I’d have a problem with it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Ethan Tucker,

    Brown could take a lot of the heat out of the present situation if he said, 'I am the best person to lead Auckland for the next three years, but I acknowledge that I have brought the office into some disrepute. Therefore I will not stand for re-election in 2016'. Then (if we're being cynical) in 2016 he could miraculously change his mind and would probably win again.

    Wellington • Since Apr 2008 • 118 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Craig Young,

    Sorry, I refuse to give Len Brown a free bus ticket

    I'm not giving him a free anything. In fact, part of the problem seems to be people giving him free stuff, and I'd rather not contribute. But in your first comment you wrote:

    It’s interesting to compare this to Canada’s equivalent Toronto imbroglio with its own scandal-ridden, embattled Mayor, Rob Ford

    How does that comparison work? One has been accused of criminal activity, and his responses to those accusations have been somewhat less than constructive. The other has been found accepting a few too many freebies and not declaring them and apparently using the mayoral car and cellphone for extracurricular activities that perhaps he shouldn't have and not repaying the council. I fail to see how Brown is anywhere near in the same league as Ford, let alone how this comparison adds anything useful to the discussion.

    Nor do I see how any of his policies are relevant to this issue.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Craig Young,

    but misuse of council funds does render the issue more serious

    The total of which is making personal calls on his work phone. Which no one ever does, clearly.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22749 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    It's that no-one seems to think there is any question that the benefits (loyalty points) *would* revert to the company - it's a consultancy, so the travel is paid for out of each contract the travel is for, rather than by the company per se. Still having a hard time seeing it as a big ethical deal, though, in the "reverting to the shareholders" sense. The shareholders aren't exactly going to be using the points.

    I suspect the IRD cares a lot about who gets the free travel ..... but that's another issue

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2605 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    I suspect the IRD cares a lot about who gets the free travel ….. but that’s another issue

    We're in the US, where the IRS has decided that loyalty points don't count as income. Don't know what the situation is in NZ, but I somehow doubt anyone's paying tax on FlyBuys....remember, you'd have to keep track of which were used before expiry to count the actual benefit (or tax people on points they might or might not use.) No sensible tax department is going to want anything to do with that sort of minefield for relatively small gains.

    It’s not “nothing to see here” territory though. There is a boundary where too many gifts become a form of corruption.

    Absolutely, but three free nights a year, when you're paying for another twenty-odd, probably isn't it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    Absolutely, but three free nights a year, when you’re paying for another twenty-odd, probably isn’t it.

    No, and I'm just cynical enough to think there's other agendas in play here that have nothing to do with the public interest or fiscal probity. Otherwise, I'm looking forward to the entire council voting to make public their cellphone records as part of a full-scale audit of cellphone usage across the city. Conducted at their expense, naturally.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    ISTR that Council cellphone usage is already a matter of public record. I seem to remember that @norighturn or somebody successfully OAI'd Lhaws cellphone records.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Not NRT: here's the link:
    https://www.fyi.org.nz/request/text_messages_sent_by_cr_michael

    Not sure how they got on with the Ombudsman.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    I just have to say it because I don't think I've seen anyone point out the obvious: he likely didn't report the hotel rooms because he didn't want his wife to find out .... it's an Occam's razor sort of thing

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2605 posts Report Reply

  • Graham Dunster, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    I once managed to get a GST receipt from the ASB Visa loyalty scheme, True Rewards, for the 'purchase' of something (forgotten what now!). It took a lot of work though.

    Talking of the Herald and its attitude, another poisonous editorial today on the film business incentives. They really don't want any Americans spending their money here!

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11173440

    Auckland • Since Nov 2009 • 184 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Werry, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    Are you kidding? The IRD isn’t even bothered with the bajillion $ worth of capital gain made by mum and dad property investors buying houses with the intention to renovate and sell them. How many people do you know who have done this? I think I could probably get to about $10m of capital gain I’ve seen friends and family accumulate tax free

    Since Mar 2009 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Graham Dunster,

    My head is spinning at the accounting implications of claiming GST on something you bought with a rebate on financial services. I guess for a business it's valid, if you claim banking costs as a business expense, etc.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

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