Who Mayor Wayne Brown was calling, texting as Auckland flooded

Newshub has obtained a log of calls and text messages Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown made on the day New Zealand's largest city experienced widespread flooding.

Brown's leadership on the afternoon and evening of January 27 has been called into question, with criticism levelled at his communication during the disaster. He's since apologised and ordered an independent investigation into the response.

But the Mayor also said, that despite not being visible for most of the day, he was in his office with officials focused on the response from around 4pm that afternoon.

A log of Brown's calls, released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, show some of the people he was speaking with throughout the day. 

He was in contact with Chief of Staff Max Hardy that morning at 9:17am as well as an unnamed individual at 9:33am. At 10:17am, he spoke with communications manager Mapihi Opai, who he was also on the phone with at 3:25pm and at 4:35pm and 4:43pm. 

There's also a text message to the chair of Auckland Council's Civil Defence and Emergency Management Committee Councillor Sharon Stewart at 4:28pm, though the contents of the message aren't included in the information so far released to Newshub.

Those phone calls and messages came as torrential rain poured down on the city in the afternoon and early evening, causing significant surface flooding and slips, and leading to authorities to warn motorists to avoid driving. 

Over the coming hours, more severe weather alerts were issued for Auckland and images emerged of motorways flooded, suburbs across the city underwater, and torrents of water destroying bridges and other infrastructure. 

At this stage, while Mayor Brown said he was in his office, there still hadn't been any public communication from him. Auckland Emergency Management and Waka Kotahi were both providing updates in the afternoon and early evening, but then went silent until after 10pm. 

Throughout the evening, the only person Mayor Brown spoke to by phone who is named in the log is Councillor Stewart at 7:12pm.

There are also a number of "premium text service" logs with no name included. 2Degrees provides a list of premium text service partners associated with four-digit numbers. The numbers included in the call log link to the Whispir communication service, according to 2Degrees' table.

At 7:32pm, Paul Amaral, the general manager of Auckland Emergency Management, emailed the Mayor templates of a state of emergency declaration. A finalised declaration was sent to Brown at 9:26pm, which he signed at 9:27pm. He later held a press conference. 

There was criticism that state of emergency was declared too late, but Mayor Brown has said he signed it as soon as he was advised to by officials. He's said he worked based on the "facts" of the situation. However, it's also been reported the Mayor and his staff weren't on an Emergency Management email list.

The log shows that just after midnight on January 28, he was texting Auckland Council chief executive Jim Stabback, Auckland Council director of governance Phil Wilson and Hardy. After 7am, he again texted Hardy and Opai.

RNZ reported on Wednesday that Brown's diary only had one item in it on January 27, a Teams meeting at 7pm that his office said was a placeholder. 

Newshub asked the Mayor's Office on Thursday what activities or work he was doing on the evening of January 27, who he was with, whether he believed he undertook his duties adequately and specifically what the "premium text services" referred to.

"The actions and decisions of the mayor and Mayor’s Office on January 27th 2023 form part of an independent review currently being undertaken by former Police Commission Mike Bush CNZM," the office's response said.

"It would be inappropriate for the mayor to comment until the release of its findings."

The review he ordered will report on the performance of the immediate official emergency response to the Auckland weather event of January 27-28 and identify any actions that need to be implemented immediately to ensure better preparation for the next event.