Hamilton Mayor’s spending raises hackles – but Len Brown makes her look downright austere

Alf hesitated before railing either for or against the spending chalked up by Hamilton’s Mayor.

He is torn on this one, because he is somewhat fond of perks and recognises that if he fancies getting the same sorts of favours as the Mayor, which he regards as his due, then he shouldn’t be too critical.

But hey. Being a two-faced hypocrite is one of the perks that goes with being a politician – isn’t it?

Mind you, the fuss in Hamilton looks a tad over-blown.

Alf thought they were a hardy breed in the Waikato but it seems they have a very low threshold when it comes to being shocked.

In this case (according to a report in the NZ Herald) –

A bill of about $91,000 from Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker’s office last year has shocked some city councillors who are questioning why ratepayers should be paying for a Koru Club membership and $1257 for a new mayoral office chair.

The 2011 expense list, released to the Herald yesterday, runs to almost six pages of which the majority is made up of the cost of running the mayoral office and holding civic events, including local government meetings and conferences to Wellington, citizenship ceremonies, funding for the civic awards, kohas, catering for official events and last year’s Anzac Day.

But other items have attracted criticism, including $994.78 on an Air New Zealand Koru Club membership, $1958 on mayoral stationery and $2000 on print ads promoting her Mayor in the Square events.

Alf was far from shocked, for the most part, by the magnitude of those numbers.

He would have eased back on the stationery and print ads, but would have diverted the money to his tab for shouting mates and voters in the Eketahuna Club.

But as we learn from the Herald, some city councillors have questioned why ratepayers are paying for perks like Koru Club memberships or luxury office chairs.

Councillor Ewan Wilson said it was inappropriate for ratepayers to be coughing up for a membership to an airport lounge when the mayor earned enough to pay it herself.

The mayor earns $144,100 a year, according to Remuneration Authority figures published by the Herald. It’s not a fortune for such an important civic job.

Wilson went on to say the Mayor in the Square event was “blatant self promotion” and was unnecessary when she was able to use the City News as a communication tool.

“She’s clearly enjoying the baubles of office,” Mr Wilson said.

Councillor Angela O’Leary, fair to say, was not shocked. Rather, she was “surprised” at some of the luxury items on the list because it came at a time when the council was operating in tough financial conditions and looking to save money.

She said councillors would not get away with some of the purchases the mayor had made.

She questioned the mayor spending $1250 on a new office chair after the council was put under the spotlight for buying new council chairs for the chamber for $715 each.

Good point.

Mrs Grumble drew Alf’s attention to a range of office chairs on offer from Warehouse Stationery.

The Mayor could have picked up the Chairmaster Bullet Midback Chair Empire Lite for $215.

It has a 6-hour+ comfort rating, is available in 17 colours, has a 10-year guarantee and is being promoted as ideal for home or office. It is NZ designed & built.

But Ms Hardaker obviously thinks she should plant the mayoral tush on something more extravagant.

And she has defended her spending

… saying she had done an “exceptional job” of running the office in a “frugal and cost-efficient” manner and she had scaled back historic spending in some areas.

“I think I’ve done an exceptional job of managing that budget. It’s under budget. For the first time, as I understand it, I’m a mayor that has not claimed any personal expenses in carrying out that job.”

Both the mayor’s office and civic functions were a key role of the council and they were done well within cost, she said.

She acknowledged the Koru Club membership was a “sensitive issue”.

But hey – while she is in the Koru lounge, she can chat with other mayors, politicians and corporates and this (she contends) leads to new opportunities.

And the mayoral chair was ordered because she could “not sit properly” in the old one because it was designed for a man. She had been unaware of the cost of the new one. “I just tried some chairs and that one looked good.”

But that won’t wash with ratepayers, and Hamilton Citizens and Ratepayers Association president John Easto said the costs were “quite staggering”.

This over-states things, surely.

If this Easto feller could spend an evening going nip for nip with Alf in the Eketahuna Club, he would know what “quite staggering” entails.

He is relaxed about the Koru Club thing but overall he says –

“It’s a bloody expensive position. I don’t think it’s justifiable, some of those costs. A Koru Club membership is fairly normal for senior managers at corporates but the other things I have real problems with – pretty flowers and things.”

In the grand scheme of things, however, Hamilton ratepayers are getting off lightly.

We learned last week that Auckland Mayor Len Brown spent $3.2 million in his first 12 months of office.

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