Tauranga's warring city council has been told it must act now to avoid a "trainwreck" of its own making.
But the recommendation was met with strong resistance from some councillors at a council meeting where they were expected to determine their own fate following a scathing report.
The report, which was publicly released last night,
refers to the elected members' internal turmoil effectively preventing the council from governing appropriately.
The report was produced by a three-strong Review and Observation Team, chaired by Peter Winder. The team was brought on board on September 2 to observe the interactions of and between elected members following increased tension and conflict earlier this year.
The team presented to the council today,
recommending the council request help from the Minister of Local Government by asking that a Crown manager and observer be appointed.
Winder addressed the council saying: "I don't think it brings us any particular pleasure to bring you this report today."
Winder also referred to issues that were hangovers from previous councils such as "the accommodation challenge that arose in 2014 that still has not been resolved". However, the current council had "poor behaviour, lack of trust, and an inability to work together on issues".
There had been relatively few occasions in New Zealand when the Local Government Minister had to intervene "but by and large, where that has taken place, that has been after the trainwreck has happened", he said.
Winder referred to previous issues at Kaipara District Council which got to a point people stopped paying rates and the viability of the council was bleak.
"Clearly Tauranga council is not at that situation but we are concerned to make sure that it is changed well before you have [a similar] problem."
Winder told elected members: "The battle for the mayoralty did not end and is alive and well. That has a number of knock-on effects that hinders this council's opportunities."
The report listed several concerns such as allegations of "score-settling and a reported eruption where elected members suggested settling their differences outside of the council chamber by means of physical violence".
The report also referred to a "significant number of LGOIMA [Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act] requests originating from elected members, or in one instance from a lawyer acting for an elected member".
"Some requests seem to be designed to identify ways to undermine people or relationships, rather than to address the business of council."
Winder said the Crown manager would help the council get through its Long Term Plan 2021/31 which was fundamental to the city's governance and residents. The manager would have significant authority, including the ability to direct the council.
Councillor Kelvin Clout asked a hypothetical question of what the latest time would be for an elected member to resign, to tie in with the upcoming byelection in February prompted by former councillor Jako Abrie who stepped down from the role in October this year and said the council was dysfunctional.
Chief executive Marty Grenfell said the time had passed but later amended this to Friday.
Councillor Steve Morris questioned Winder as to the quality of the report and asked whether it was a "draft", referring to "at least 30" errors or minor spelling issues and offering to go through them line by line to correct them.
Morris said the report "suggests some big changes to democracy" and it should not be sent to the minister in its current version.
Councillor Dawn Kiddie questioned whether the team had consulted with iwi, hapū and other representative groups such as mainstreet organisations. She also asked how much the appointment of a Crown manager and observer would cost ratepayers.
Winder replied: "Given what you are facing, that is not a significant question. It is our belief it will be less than the budget allocated for the review team."
The cost of bringing in the external review team is understood to be up to $350,000.
Councillor Andrew Hollis also questioned the report, asking whether it was saying the elected members were "dysfunctional or doing okay".
"As a first-term councillor it does take time to learn the process here ... has it been easy? No, it hasn't. I don't think this report addresses the problems appropriately."
After further back and forth from Morris questioning Winder over the report, councillor John Robson successfully moved a motion to put off the decision to Friday, when the council will hold an extraordinary meeting.
The motion was carried with support from councillors Bill Grainger, Hollis, Kiddie, Clout and Morris. Mayor Tenby Powell and councillors Larry Baldock, Heidi Hughes and Tina Salisbury opposed.
Baldock said the report was that of the Review and Observation Team and not necessarily subject to amendments from elected members "even if a majority of members think that it should be changed".
Baldock's comment prompted an outburst of "absolutely" from the public gallery.
The appointment of the team follows an August 21 council meeting in response to a Department of Internal Affairs request the council provide evidence it was taking steps to restore trust and confidence in its ability to meet the Crown's expectations of a high-performing council.
How did we get to this point?
On May 19, a council meeting held via Zoom prompted a walkout when councillor and then deputy mayor Larry Baldock moved a motion to cut short a debate on Elizabeth St which was later deemed to be a procedural error. In protest, councillor John Robson refused to vote and councillors Steve Morris, Andrew Hollis and Dawn Kiddie walked out of the video conference meeting. Councillor Kelvin Clout apologised for his seconding the motion.
Those five, and councillor Bill Grainger, signed a letter of requisition seeking a meeting to remove Baldock from the position of deputy mayor and replace him with a choice elected by the council.
The coup attempt became public after a Tauranga City Council meeting on June 2. However, in that meeting, mayor Tenby Powell announced Baldock's resignation and replacement by councillor Tina Salisbury.
A public spat between Powell and some elected members, including Morris, followed, resulting in Morris' August 20 call for Powell to resign.
On August 21 the council decided to appoint a Review and Observer Team to try to resolve the issue of elected member relationships.
On September 2 the council appointed Peter Winder as a member and chairman of the Review and Observer Team.
In October 2019, Hollis, Clout, and Robson lost their bid to become mayor to Powell.