Hard News by Russell Brown


Some reprehensible bullshit

EXCLUSIVE, trumpets the Herald on Sunday's front page lead story today, HIDDEN ROOMS IN MAYOR'S NEW OFFICE. 'What secrets are concealed in Len Brown's flash new office?' the headline inside demands. A better question might have been: is anybody really proud of this nonsense?

The story is billed in the paper as a "Herald on Sunday special report". It's actually a ridiculous beat-up constructed around a Local Government Information Act request made by Councillor Cameron Brewer and brought to the HoS. 

As reported in 2012, Auckland Council has purchased the former ASB tower in Albert Street to bring under one roof all its CBD staff, who are currently scattered through seven buildings, some of whose leases are expiring. The building cost $104 million, but an official analysis found the move would save ratepayers about $100 million on rents, ownerships costs and travel over the net 20 years.

That might be an ambitious estimate, but I don't see anyone seriously contending that it's not a cheaper and more efficient option. Apart, of course, from Brewer, who told the same Herald on Sunday reporter back in July that the move was a "waste of money", but provided no numbers to back up his claim.

The "secret rooms" are not actually a "secret" in any meaningful sense of the word: their presence, design and, fittings and budget are literally a matter of public record. They are a dressing room with a two-seater sofa, an ironing board and a wardrobe, and a small ensuite bathroom. But, in what would seem to be a bid to blend the office's ceremonial and practical functions, the door between the formal office and its ensuite has been designed as part of a bookcase. That's it. That really is the sum total of the scandal.

The HoS does not suggest exactly how a door with books on it makes the room any more likely to hide bad deeds than a door without, given that everyone knows the ensuite is there, but you know what's coming:

And eyebrows have been raised about the secret rooms, given Brown's past indiscretions.

During a two-year affair with Bevan Chuang, the pair had sex in the mayoral office and other council rooms.

The graphic with the story goes to farcical ends to try and wrench more out of the mundane facts. The mayor's office will not have blinds like any other office, but "blackout blinds", and the wardrobe will be a "full-length mirrored wardrobe". They've even Photoshopped Bevan Chuang into a picture with Brown, dutifully noting that the picture has been "digitally altered".

The rest of the story is padded out with inane quotes from failed mayoral candidate and leader of the deranged "Stand Down Len Brown" protests Stephen Berry, and four of the five council dead-enders who got crushed by their peers in a vote over Brown's censure motion last year:

Last night the hidden rooms were labelled "inappropriate" and "a really bad look".

Councillor Sharon Stewart said she had not seen the new office, but "I don't think it's a good look ... I don't think he should have secret rooms in light of what's gone on."

Councillor Linda Cooper said the mayor had a perception problem. "When you've been caught before ... you've got to be wise about your actions and how they'll be perceived by the public, given your history."

Affordable Auckland leader Stephen Berry said hiding rooms behind a bookcase was "highly inappropriate and a really bad look".

"Didn't he learn from the Bevan Chuang incident?"

Councillor Dick Quax said the rooms sounded too elaborate for a city mayor: "A mayor requires working places, he doesn't need play spaces."

You know, if I was building myself a "play space", I think I'd do better than a two-seater couch and a dressing mirror. But Brown actually seems to have had no role in the design. Which make sense, given that the office is supposed to house mayors for at least the next two decades.

Brewer, as usual, gets more space to blather inanities than the others:

Brewer said most would see the bathroom as "more James Bond and probably better suited for the general manager of Hotel Versace".

"Given these are times of austerity according to the mayor, I don't think communities facing local project and service cutbacks will appreciate this kind of showing off."

Is he fucking serious? The bathroom cost $10,000, including tiling. Anyone who has renovated their own home will know what a $10,000 bathroom looks like, and it don't look like much.

But everyone involved here knows that. The editor, the reporter and the rentaquote councillors all know the story is bullshit. For the latter, it's another chance to have a crack at Brown and for the paper it's just more cheap clickbait. If Bevan Chuang gets used yet again -- and Photoshopping her into a picture really is quite the sleazy touch -- that's just what happens to women who have sex, right? 

Is this what you people got into journalism for?

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