The actions of Tauranga City Council are putting the growth of the city and wider region "at risk", according to the Local Government Minister.
Minister Nanaia Mahuta issued a short statement on Friday announcing her intention to appoint a commission to Tauranga City Council "in response to significant governance problems" - a move variously described as "an early Christmas present" and an "extraordinary mistake".
It followed a tumultuous year for the council that has seen councillor Jako Abrie and mayor Tenby Powell quit, a damning independent report into the council's governance and a split vote on November 20 to ask the minister to appoint a Crown observer and manager.
In a letter, forwarded to elected members, Mahuta laid out in detail her reasons for her intention to take a higher level of intervention than that requested - a commission that would take over the full powers and duties of elected members.
She proposed a term of 21 months from February to October 2022.
Mahuta listed seven "key issues" she believed were "preventing elected representatives from delivering effective governance to Tauranga City".
They range from "poor behaviour", "infighting" and "leaks of confidential information" to the ability of elected members to "set rates at a realistic level".
"Good governance has not been demonstrated this electoral term, despite these issues
having been drawn to the council's attention," she said in the letter.
The list also included the "failure" of some elected members to accept the independent observers' assessment; frequent relitigating of previous council decisions; and the pressure elected members put on council staff.
"The residents of Tauranga and surrounding districts have not been provided with
confidence that the council can make sound strategic decisions without delving into
She raised elected members' ability to "deliver a robust draft 2021-31 Long-term plan for public consultation that sets rates at a realistic level to address the substantial infrastructure and funding challenges faced by the city now, and into the future.
"Tauranga is a rapidly growing city with substantial infrastructure needs. I am deeply concerned that through its actions, the council is putting the growth of Tauranga City and the wider region at risk," she said.
She determined the "governance and capability issues" met the threshold for Crown intervention under part 10 of the Local Government Act.
"Should I not be convinced that the council has the ability to take the necessary steps to resolve its problems, my intention is to have the commission in place by the beginning of February 2021 for a term of 21 months until October 31, 2022.
"This will retain the opportunity for the triennial election to take place in October 2022 and newly elected representatives to take office."
The minister said she expected the post-commission new council would be able to "demonstrate that it fully understands the principles of good governance and is working as an effective team on behalf of the city".
The council was given until December 18 to respond.
Councillor Kelvin Clout said the conflict in the council had reduced since November 20 and it was "beginning to function as a more cohesive governance team".
He believed they could develop a long-term plan, as they had the last annual plan, and had the "collective will" to rate appropriately for investment in desperately needed infrastructure.
He said split votes were not uncommon in councils and were "no excuse" to impose a commission.
Councillor Larry Baldock said he agreed with most of the points the minister raised and believed commissioners were "pretty much essential" to avoid putting Tauranga's growth at risk.
"It has been the worst experience in my eight years in local government and three years in central government politics."
Former mayor Powell said in his view the council was "nowhere near" up to the job.
In his view, the understanding of governance among most elected members was limited, exemplified by "endless" discussions about a tree and CBD hanging baskets and too little focus on the $2b capital funding hole over the next decade.
"Never have I been in such a dysfunctional environment,'' he said, expressing his view.
Deputy mayor Tina Salisbury, who is also acting mayor, said she did not know how the letter got into the public arena.
She said the elected members should have an opportunity to respond to the letter before it was litigated in public.
Other elected members were approached for comment.
Terms of reference
A draft terms of reference for the commission attached to the letter did not say how many commissioners she intended to appoint, but in the past the number has ranged from one to four.
According to the draft terms, the commission's role would include working out how to engage with the community and other stakeholders to rebuild confidence and trust in the council.
It would also include delivering a "robust and fit for purpose" long-term plan, continuing to identify and work on problems in the council and working with other local authorities on plans and strategies for transport and urban development.
The commission would also be tasked with coming up with a "clear and comprehensive exit plan to facilitate a smooth transition back to an elected council".