The lion, the witch and Len Brown's wardrobe
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They make an unlikely crime-fighting duo.
They don’t have capes. Or day jobs. Or desire for anonymity.
They certainly don’t have any money.
But an emerging team, vowing to fight alleged political corruption, is continuing to take shape following the Auckland mayor’s most recent scandal.
Auckland activist and campaigner Penny Bright has joined forces with retired Wellington accountant Graham McCready.
Ms Bright is known for her unsuccessful mayoral bids and, some would say, colourful disruptions of government meetings. Mr McCready is perhaps best known for his private prosecution against Act Party leader John Banks, which the Crown is taking to trial in May.
The two first met in Wellington in 2012 when Mr Banks was their politician de jour.
Now, the two have turned their attention to Auckland mayor Len Brown and the $250,000 EY report.
On January 27 Mr McCready lodged a request for the Attorney-General’s consent to prosecute Mr Brown for an alleged offence of corruption under the Crimes Act 1961.
Crown Law has acknowledged receipt of the complaint and plans to make a decision before March.
On February 4, Ms Bright filed a complaint of money laundering against the mayor. That complaint relates to free hotel rooms and upgrades unveiled by the EY report, which looked into the mayor’s use of council resources during his two-year extramarital affair with staffer Bevan Chuang.
If the police do not pursue Ms Bright’s allegations, Mr McCready says he is prepared to launch a private prosecution.
“We’re now becoming quite a formidable team up here in Auckland,” he told NBR ONLINE. “I try to stand back and wait for the court proceedings. I can be the advocate and prosecutor. They can be the complainants.”
Ms Bright is used to making noise. At last month’s council meeting she was denied speaking rights but that didn’t stop her from taking centre stage and disrupting the meeting.
Her latest tirade targets former council CEO Doug McKay, who commissioned the EY report. She says he didn’t follow proper procedure and she has since lodged a complaint with the police under the Crimes Act.
Although Auckland Council denied her speaking rights, she stood up and began to talk over the mayor and other councillors.
“We don’t have one set of rules for Penny Bright and one for everyone else,” Mr Brown told her at the meeting.
He adjourned the meeting for “five minutes” which ended up being more like 20. Ms Bright continued to speak to the room while councillors drank tea and ate biscuits just metres away.
Mr McCready, who wasn’t at the meeting, says asking Ms Bright to be quiet is a mistake.
“If you want Penny to stop talking, then you have to talk to her,” Mr McCready says. “Tell her to shut up and she’ll go on for the next two hours but you gotta hand it to her.”
It’s not the first time Ms Bright has been refused speaking rights or refused to leave meetings when public bodies tried to discuss confidential matters. She regularly cites the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act in her demands to be present.
“I’ve been arrested 22 times so I have expertise in this area,” she told NBR ONLINE.
Another thing Ms Bright and Mr McCready have in common is they have no money.
When Kim Dotcom has a message for the public — whether it’s declaring his right to dance, creating a political party or venting his disdain for internet buffering — he can rent a billboard or the side of an Auckland city bus and stick his face on it.
When Ms Bright has a message for the public, she runs for office. She rejects the notion that she is a “serially unsuccessful candidate”.
“I use the electoral process to get publicity about the issues. It’s an effective way to get your message out to the public,” she says.
Mr McCready, on the other hand, turns to the court system.
He’s twice bankrupted.
She has refused to pay rates since 2008.
Mr McCready regularly travels by bus and, when he heads to Auckland, you won’t find him with free room upgrades at SkyCity, the Langham, the Hilton, the Stamford Plaza or any other room next door to New Zealand’s elite.
The last time he was in Auckland to file papers at the High Court, he slept on Ms Bright’s couch.
Ms Bright no longer works as a welding tutor at Manukau Institute of Technology. Instead, she says she paid off her 24-year mortgage in nine years and rents rooms to flatmates for income.
“I’m a self-funded public watchdog. No one can remove my funding because I don’t get any,” she says.
She has refused to pay rates since 2008, when she questioned where her money was going. Under the Public Records Act, she says she is entitled to complete records, particularly payments made from public bodies to private contractors.
She hasn’t received what she says is a solid answer. Over the years, she has shifted her interests from the rights of ratepayers to what she calls “the statutory duties of public officials”.
“If you don’t know your rights, then you haven’t got any,” Ms Bright says.
Speaking of public officials, Mr McCready can count at least five complaints launched with government offices with links to Mr Brown.
“It ain’t going to go away shortly,” he says. “I would imagine, looking at the whole process, we’ll probably have Len Brown in court, one way or the other, within six months. And this time it will stick.”
Mr Brown has not publicly responded to the allegations.