Tauranga's mayor says he is surrounded by "smiling assassins" after what has been described as his "unprovoked blow-up" at a councillor in an informal meeting.
Councillor Andrew Hollis claims mayor Tenby Powell swore angrily at him and stormed out of the Monday meeting, and similar incidents happen with "unreasonable frequency".
Powell says he is under constant attack by councillors Hollis, John Robson, Steve Morris and Dawn Kiddie, and he has good reasons to be angry - and the city should be too.
Powell and Hollis have clashed publicly before. Powell called for Hollis' resignation over a Facebook post about burning the Treaty of Waitangi, and was later censured by the council after calling Hollis a "f****** climate-denying racist" in a meeting with staff. Hollis denies being racist.
The Bay of Plenty Times approached Hollis and Powell this week after learning from another source of Monday's incident.
It came the week after the Bay Times published stories about council tensions, based on communications and information released by the council.
Hollis said Monday's gathering in the councillors' lounge was a regular event. There were no minutes, recordings or votes, just "general chit-chat".
Elected members could raise "little niggles" of their own or from the community, he said. Chatham House rules applied "so we can be open and frank".
Most councillors were present.
Hollis said Powell "very, very angrily, swore at me and said some things then left the room". The "outburst" was over a text or email Hollis allegedly sent about the mayor.
Hollis said he cannot find the message and it "would not be like me to post or message something like that".
He claimed he did not do anything to provoke the mayor in the meeting.
"Crikey, I can't even remember when the last time was I provoked the mayor. Like, five, six months ago."
"There was nothing really of a provocative nature mentioned and it's possibly just a buildup of things ... and overflowed the cup so to speak."
He said he had "broad shoulders" but it was not the mayor's first outburst and he was concerned about the coming two years.
Hollis provided a video clip of part of an informal council online meeting held a couple of months ago, during a struggle over the deputy mayor position.
In it, Powell says: "I didn't sign up to be your [elected members'] leader, I signed up to lead this city."
Hollis said he had been sitting on the video until now, but he believed it demonstrated the leadership issues he was talking about, though was not the worst incident.
"We have two years and this is pretty rough stuff to have, it makes it pretty hard to have a civil dialogue."
Powell said that what he said in the video was still true and the fact Hollis recorded it "speaks volumes" about the "disruptive councillor", as did the timing of releasing it.
Powell said the council's focus right now should be on the health, wellbeing and safety of the community.
He would not give his version on what happened in Monday's meeting, except to say Hollis' account was "heavily edited". He would not breach the agreed confidentiality of the meeting - and said Hollis should not have either.
"We no longer have a safe space for robust debate."
Powell said it was his first meeting since the texts and emails hit the media.
He pointed to an email where Hollis said "imagine spending the next 2 years with this guy" then talked about an opportunity to remove then-deputy mayor Larry Baldock and "take control of Tenby". Another email was about applying "enough pressure so that this mayor ... leaves".
"I will not accept Hollis' racism, and his attitude, and all that comes with it, and this hate that he just vomits every day on Facebook and in other ways," Powell said.
He said Hollis was seen holding a cigarette lighter up to a print of the Treaty of Waitangi in council chambers at the beginning of the term. Hollis said there was no lighter, he just made the motion of one with his fingers - and it was a joke.
Powell said he had to stand up against it. "He has issues with me because he has probably never in his life been confronted in this way."
He claimed councillors Hollis, Robson, Morris and Kiddie were "working extremely hard to create the friction".
"We had a real opportunity to do something special, and I have been hammered away at by these guys since day one."
Powell said he was a passionate person and he did not mind people disagreeing with him, "but it's the way they've gone about it".
"I am really angry about what they said in their texts ... It is completely and utterly unnecessary."
Powell said he apologised to councillor Kelvin Clout for sending texts about him.
"What I feel ... is that I've got smiling assassins. I'm surrounded by four of them, that they smile during the day and then they plot my assassination at night. And I am sick of it.
"We are here to serve the city. I don't know what previous mayors have got by way of votes but you'd think with 18,000 votes they would say, 'look, let's get behind this guy, let's try and make this work'."
"I have had enough. The city has had enough. When I talk to business leaders, I talk to iwi leaders and I talked to leaders in other parts of the Bay, they have had enough.
"The city should be angry, not just me."
He said he had decided to stop wasting his energy on them and focus on the city's challenges.
Councillor Baldock, who has backed Powell, said he had heard much more swearing from other elected members, and the mayor apologised to councillors on Tuesday.
Hollis said he did not believe he breached the confidentiality of the councillor's lounge, as the incident had already been leaked. "Once it's leaked there's no point not talking about it."
He said Powell was "100 per cent mistaken about his views about me being racist" and should have apologised for asking him to resign.
There was no "flock" of councillors "plotting his demise".
Powell's censure was a "pretty big deal", Hollis said, and should have sent a message the council wanted him to change his leadership style, but "what Hollis described as the "tantrums" behind closed doors continued.
"Either the leader has to change or you have to change the leader.
"I wouldn't lose any sleep if he resigned."
Hollis and Powell each accused the other of being the roadblock to finding a way to work together, but both said the council was getting on with its core business in spite of happenings behind the scenes.
Of the other councillors Powell named, Morris said he had been a councillor for seven years, under three mayors.
"The public know me very well, and it's up to them to judge whether these comments are accurate or not."
Kiddie said the assertion of a group working against the mayor was false and always had been.
"There's been no plot."
She said Powell's "outbursts would never be accepted in the private sector".
"I wouldn't allow it from my children ... I don't want to be fearful in my workplace.
"I am sad for him that he is angry. But this is just playing the victim card again."
She did not understand why Powell was going down the route of "attacking" some councillors after all the other things reported recently.
"Let's draw a line, let's move forward."
Robson declined to comment.