Tauranga City councillor Andrew Hollis. Photo / File A_250820gn04bop.JPG
Tauranga City councillor Larry Baldock. Photo / File A_250820gn24bop.JPG
By Samantha Motion
Tauranga City councillor Larry Baldock is unrepentant despite a finding he breached the council's Code of Conduct by suggesting a colleague deleted text messages to avoid scrutiny.
Councillor Andrew Hollis made a Code of Conduct complaint on August 5 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 of Conduct, but naming Hollis in the media did.
Gourlay found the seriousness of the breach was "at the lower end of the scale".
In his view, any disrespect or impact to Hollis' integrity would be offset by the "publicised animosity that exists between the two councillors, and current disharmony previously reported amongst the wider group of elected members".
He also said his decision was not intended to "diminish the view or position held by Cr Baldock regarding the anomaly he has raised, or his ability to do so".
In a meeting today, the council - minus Hollis and Baldock - voted to consider the complaint itself at a later date rather than sending it to an independent panel set up earlier this year to hear some Code of Conduct complaints.
The meeting heard the three-person panel would cost about $1500 plus expenses per person per day.
Baldock's Facebook post followed the release of a Bay of Plenty Times official information request for texts and emails between elected members during a period in May and June where Baldock quit as deputy mayor after six councillors tried to oust him.
Council staff did not find any text messages on Hollis' council-supplied phone that were in the scope of the request, but text messages attributed to him appeared in the records of other councillors' phones.
Hollis maintains he did not delete any messages.
Baldock's post said: "At this stage I am pursuing some enquiries with the Offices of the Ombudsman and Chief Archivist in regard to what seems to be a deliberate attempt by one Councillor to avoid scrutiny by deleting all txts from his phone prior to handing it in to staff. I shall update you more on this later." [SIC]
Baldock told the Bay of Plenty Times after today's meeting he would not apologise to Hollis who, he felt, had still not adequately explained the text anomaly.
He still felt his post and pursuit of the issue was "reasonable" and said he was awaiting the results of an investigation by the Chief Archivist.
"Until the investigation is complete, and there is an explanation ... I would be apologising in the dark," he said.
Hollis said he had made his point and he was happy for the council to decide what happened next.
"I don't think it's worthy of a censure or a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket or anything like that. I've made my point. It's clear that there was a breach.
"You either say sorry or you don't. Getting forced to say sorry is a ... pyrrhic victory."
He accepted Gourlay's finding the impact of the breach was minor.
"I think my reputation will survive it."
He said Baldock had the opportunity to apologise and retract his post at the time and refused, so taking the Code of Conduct route was justified.
It's Hollis' second substantiated complaint this term. In March, mayor Tenby Powell was censured by the council and ordered to apologise to Hollis after calling him a "f****** climate-denying racist" in a meeting with council staff.
Baldock made three Code of Conduct complaints last term - one against councillor Steve Morris and two against councillor John Robson - but none was substantiated.
The council will discuss Hollis' complaint against Baldock on October 28.
Gourlay's conclusion has been made public, but the council told the Bay of Plenty Times the investigator's full report would not be made available until the agenda for that meeting was published on October 22.
Council meeting monitored
Members of a team set up to monitor Tauranga City Council's mayor and councillors sat in on a public council meeting for the first time yesterday.
The council agreed to establish a "Review and Observation Team", chaired by Peter Winder, last month after central Government expressed concerns about reported clashes and conflict between elected members. A budget of $350,000 was set for the exercise.
Team members Linda Smith and Basil Morrison monitored yesterday's meeting from a desk in the chambers.
The meeting was uneventful with no notable clashes, though historically, issues have generally occurred outside of livestreamed public meetings.
The review team was expected to deliver its first report next month.