A local governance expert says Tauranga City elected members are not entirely to blame for the high-profile conflict issues that have prompted the recommendation Crown representatives take over.
Local Government Think Tank director Peter McKinlay said, in his view, the city's elected members had been let down by a lack of support for their role as the council's governing body. Their behavioural and conflict issues which have dogged the council's reputation this year were symptomatic of a far deeper problem, McKinlay said.
It was the environment and a lack of support for the work elected members were expected to carry out.
McKinlay is a well respected local government specialist who has been keeping a close eye on the unravellings of Tauranga City Council.
Today the council will meet for an extraordinary meeting in which elected members will vote on whether to accept recommendations from a Review and Observation Team report that the council request from the Local Government Minister a Crown manager and observer to effectively take over.
The report was presented to council on Tuesday and highlighted a lack of strategic direction, behavioural and conflict issues, and a large number of meetings as key issues to address.
"The thing the report doesn't explore is that if you look at the position of elected members, they are expected to be collectively responsible for making decisions which encompass incredibly complex issues, whether that be transport, wastewater, urban development, and have big price tags, but do not have the support a governing body needs to manage this level of decision-making," McKinlay said.
"To support them to do that they currently have a cellphone and laptop. They have nowhere within the council premises in which they can actually work."
McKinlay said the elected member role had changed in the past 30 years from what was once a part-time kitchen table job to a fulltime and all-consuming role. And each elected member had a responsibility to be satisfied they had the best possible information in front of them for the decisions they make.
"That means adequate time to consider and reflect on what's before them. But more importantly, they need to be satisfied that advice before them is the best advice, it has asked the right questions and has got the good answers to those questions."
However, the report criticised elected members for the frequency they requested information from staff.
McKinlay said, in his view, elected members were doing this because they had no alternative means of ensuring they had the best information.
"We've changed the job completely but not the way we support the job.
"In my view, it is certainly the case that as far as behaviour is concerned there are a number of councillors who could do better."
McKinlay said the result was, in his view, a council that "looks more like a kindergarten on a bad day rather than anything else".
"So there has been an immediate focus on behaviour and conflicts between elected members but anyone looking at behaviour should naturally say 'why'. What's the context? What's driving this?
"It's a very poor set of governance arrangements.
"This is particularly problematic when you have a council with really major, complex issues in front of them where there is no easy answer."
McKinlay said he'd like to see councillors adopt a policy for the conduct of council business. That would cover proper support to elected members so they could expect to discharge a complete governance role. This would also allow them the ability to get a second opinion if they wanted it.
"No professional director would tolerate conditions under which our councillors are expected to function. There is a strong argument the present difficulties are because they can't do the job they are required to with the arrangements currently in place."
Council chief executive Marty Grenfell declined to comment, citing the nature of today's meeting in which elected members would vote on whether to accept the report's recommendation.
Review and Observation Team chairman Peter Winder also declined to comment, citing the same reason, as did Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
However, mayor Tenby Powell said McKinlay had a "deep-seated knowledge of local government but the reality is he's entirely wrong, in my view".
"We are briefed and briefed and briefed about so many things."
Powell said McKinlay's comparison of elected members to a corporate world was not apples with apples due to the nature of how local government representatives were appointed. This was a common misconception, Powell said.
Councillor Kelvin Clout, who works from a home office, said there was some scope for greater support for councillors such as a dedicated researcher "but I don't believe a lack of support is the reason for our present relationship issues".
Councillor Dawn Kiddie said support, training and upskilling was fundamental in any position but especially important when there were six councillors new to local government and all that such a thing brought.
"Peter's skillset is worldly recognised and any help from him would be well received I am sure."
Kiddie and councillor Steve Morris represent the Pāpāmoa and Mount Maunganui ward and each said they were kept busy with the role, which served about 50,000 of Tauranga's residents.
Other elected members were contacted for comment.