A Tauranga city councillor at the centre of a code of conduct hearing today
hit back by lodging his own official complaint in response.
Larry Baldock's own code of conduct complaint now prompts a council investigation into text records in the fallout of Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) revelations made by the Bay of Plenty Times this year.
On August 5, councillor Andrew Hollis made a code of conduct complaint about a Facebook post Baldock made about Hollis' texts, and a media story that followed.
The Facebook post did not name Hollis but Baldock confirmed in the Bay of Plenty Times story he was talking about Hollis.
An investigation by independent consultant Campbell Gourlay found Baldock's initial post did not breach the code, but naming Hollis in the media did and this was at the "lower end of the scale".
Today, the council met to determine if a breach occurred and if so, what penalty Baldock faced. Penalties ranged from doing nothing more to a call to resign.
The complaint from Hollis has so far cost $9723 + GST and relates to independent investigation costs, funded by ratepayers.
Hollis, as the complainant, was excused from the hearing.
In addressing councillors and council staff, Baldock said he wished the situation had not come to this "jury" trial.
Baldock said Hollis had, in his view, made a "frivolous, politically motivated" complaint.
Baldock asked that fellow councillors John Robson, Dawn Kiddie and Steve Morris be excused from the hearing that would ultimately determine his fate, citing potential bias.
"At the very least, councillor Robson, Morris and Kiddie should not participate. If they do, I don't think you can expect me to take any judgment or penalty you impose seriously."
The three councillors were part of a coup, involving Hollis, earlier this year to remove Baldock from his deputy mayor position after a procedural error during a meeting.
Baldock stepped down and was replaced by Tina Salisbury.
At today's hearing, Baldock also referred to missing texts that were revealed as part of the LGOIMA response, and that while there were 17 pages of texts between councillors Morris and Kiddie from Morris' phone, there was just one page of texts from Kiddie.
" ... [that] is one of the reasons why I would like councillor Kiddie to excuse herself from participation."
A second reason was Kiddie's well-known friendship with Hollis, he said.
This was not "simply a public airing of differences between councillors", Baldock said, but potentially an offence that carries a maximum penalty of $5000 under the Public Records Act 2005.
"A potential breach, which could involve withholding information from the public about what was really happening in the recent attempt to try to drive the duly elected mayor from office.
"This is not just about the texts that have been revealed on the phones between elected members but what communications there may have been between councillor Hollis and third parties that have not been seen by the public who are entitled to under LGOIMA requests."
Baldock's complaint will now be reviewed by the council, which is expected to begin its own investigation. Baldock referred to forensic investigations being adept at recovering deleted texts from phones.
After Baldock left the hearing, mayor Tenby Powell asked the elected members whether any would like to declare a conflict of interest or potential bias in their decision making but no one did.
"The fact some of you don't see yourself as conflicted displays a huge lack of awareness," he said.
Powell said he wished Hollis' complaint - which he described as "spurious nonsense" -resulted in a discharge without any further cost to the public.
Kiddie replied that she was "quite upset about this" and "didn't see it coming".
"I don't see that I have a conflict of interest other than the facts that are out there in front of me."
Kiddie stepped away from her seat to remove herself from the panel.
Councillor Bill Grainger said he had never seen such a situation in his 13 years in council.
"It's so, so sad it had got to this stage."
Grainger referenced Gourlay's investigation which said there had been a breach. Grainger said no matter how big or small the breach was, an apology was called for.
Councillor Morris said he did not think some people were able to "let go" and supported the findings, saying "I hope councillor Baldock will in his own way apologise for breaching the Code of Conduct."
Councillor Heidi Hughes said there had been many occasions over the past few months where there could have been "a lot of sorrys" for hurtful things that were said or behaviour that potentially disrespected another elected member.
"To put someone in the spotlight now just makes them take the rap in the eyes of the media and in our community I don't think is fair based on all the other stuff that has been going on.
"This will just end up with another code of conduct complaint and another code of conduct complaint."
Robson said he shared Hughes' concern that if the council went on an eye-for-an-eye approach, the council could end up blind.
"Blind with rage, blind with anger, blind with ill-discipline. We've struggled to recognise the good in the people elected. Let's accept what the investigator says but can we be big enough to say 'let's not take any further action' and put water under the bridge?"
Councillor Kelvin Clout said he did not believe Baldock would apologise if asked to and he felt the council was "riding some pretty rocky rapids".
The council voted unanimously to agree with Gourlay's findings and also that no further action will be taken against Baldock.
In the recommendation of accepting the naming of Hollis in the Bay of Plenty Times constituted a breach, councillors Salisbury, Hughes and Powell did not support this.
Councillors Morris, Robson, Grainger and Clout did.