Two Tauranga city councillors say the entire council should be replaced.
The comments came as Tauranga City Council unanimously approved a $350,000 budget for a review and observer team to monitor elected members' interactions, following months of clashes and tension.
The cost estimate has been described as "gut-wrenching" by one councillor, and there are calls for elected members to pay the review bill out of their own pockets.
The council voted late last month to voluntarily bring in independent monitors after receiving a please-explain letter from the Department of Internal Affairs about the relationship issues between the mayor and councillors.
In a meeting yesterdaythe council debated the costs and terms of reference for the review team.
Both councillor Steve Morris - who has previously called for mayor Tenby Powell to resign - and councillor Jako Abrie said they preferred to see the council replaced.
Abrie said the elected members had "lost the right to serve this city".
Morris called for the council to ask the department to appoint commissioners or the Minister of Local Government to "call a general election of the mayor and councillors".
"A significant governance failure has been inflicted on the city by the people around this table."
He said the council asking ratepayers to pay to sort out issues between elected members was like a store asking a customer to fork out to repair a faulty product.
However, Morris' bid to have elected members pay the cost of the review out of their own pockets found little support around the council table.
Concerns were raised it would be illegal, set a bad precedent and give members a financial incentive to end the review process too quickly.
The budget estimate by council staff was based on the review team being with the council for nine months to June.
Councillor Bill Grainger said the idea of spending $350,000 was "gut-wrenching".
Councillor Kelvin Clout said: "I think ratepayers would justifiably be quite horrified that they are effectively paying the cost of our governance failure."
The council backed Clout's motion to add an "off-ramp" in the process at the 4-6 week mark, when the review team is expected to produce its first report and a recommended action plan.
Clout said the council would have a better understanding of the issues by then and could commit to working collaboratively, so the review team would no longer be needed.
"If we can't we are in big trouble."
Other councillors did not share his confidence that issues could be sorted out that quickly, and Abrie said the council should not meddle in the independent process.
Chief executive Marty Grenfell said the process was voluntary and the council could vote anytime to call it off.
He said the issues had cost the council "many thousands" in legal, meeting and official information request-related expenses over the last two to three months.
"This council spends about $550m of public funds every year. The $350,000, in my view, would be well spent if the decision-making and efficiency of councillors improves.
"Just because the budget is there doesn't mean it needs to be spent."
After the meeting, Tauranga retail business owner Ben Tuck told the Bay of Plenty Times he could not see why the council could not sort out its issues when, in his view, the city had bigger problems such as a CBD turning into a "morgue".
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said there was an "opportunity cost" to not having good governance that could run into the millions.
He believed businesses would accept the bill for the review as a necessary step to helping the council become the high-performing team the city needed.
Local Government academic Dr Andy Asquith of Massey University said the ultimate question was whether the relationships on the council could be repaired.
"The ideal scenario would be for a monitor to come in and offer advice and for the council to say 'yes, we will accept that advice and play nicely until the next election'."
Department of Internal Affairs senior official Anita Balakrishnan said the organisation was satisfied the council was moving quickly to address its issues.
"We will continue to request and monitor regular updates from the council and will be present at council meetings to ensure actions are taking place until we are satisfied the issues have been addressed.
If the council ended the review early, the department would assess the team's findings
"to determine if further action is required".
She was not able to estimate the costs of steps the Government could take if it decided to intervene, including appointing commissioners or a Crown manager.
Tauranga City Council has budgeted $350,000 to for a nine-month term of the review team. The cost could reduce if the council decided to end the review before June.
Factors influencing the budget were:
- Salaries of team members: $131,250 to $187,500, depending on whether there are two or three members
- Internal management oversight costs: up to $112,500
- Legal expenses and cost for measuring and monitoring tools: $50,000
About the review and observer team
- Peter Winder has been appointed as chairman. He can appoint up to two other members.
- Winder has served as both the former Crown-appointed Commissioner and the Crown Manager of the Kaipara District Council, and is a former chief executive of the Auckland Regional Council and Local Government New Zealand.
- The role of the team is to "provide guidance and advice to elected members, collectively and individually, on matters of governance and the forging and maintenance of constructive and functional relationships with and amongst the elected members, including the mayor".
It can also advise the council chief executive and senior management team and make recommendations to the council, but has no role in decision-making.