Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell has promised to do better despite a tense meeting in which some councillors heavily criticised his leadership.
Tauranga City Council's elected members gathered at an emergency meeting yesterday following a tumultuous few months that have seen meeting walkouts, the ousting of a former deputy mayor, revealing communications and this week calls for Powell to resign.
The conflict within the elected member team had boiled over to such an extent the Department of Internal Affairs confirmed to the Bay of Plenty Times it was now involved, prompting the 9.30am meeting.
Every elected member was present in chambers except for councillor Dawn Kiddie who Zoomed in, explaining she was in Wellington for a family matter.
The council voted unanimously in favour of appointing an observer team to monitor the elected members' interaction with each other. The terms of reference for the team will be drafted by chief executive Marty Grenfell.
By 9am most of the socially distanced public gallery was full with a who's who of the city's business and community leaders, including Sir Paul Adams and former mayoral contender Dame Susan Devoy.
People keen to attend the meeting but unable to fit in the public gallery gathered downstairs in the council's building to watch the meeting via livestream.
Councillor Kelvin Clout likened the council's current situation to an episode of television drama House of Cards.
He commended Powell on enhancing relationships with key city stakeholders but said his "antics" were unacceptable and the mayor had failed in providing appropriate leadership.
"Mr Powell, the voters trust you to bring this diverse group of councillors together.
"For the most part, we 10 councillors sitting around here, we work really well together. We've got differences of policies and how we want to allocate our resources but after a solid day of robust discussion and debate largely enjoy each other's company and resolve any differences.
"I've been shocked and saddened by the way our mayor has on multiple occasions now verbally exploded, used foul language and displayed aggressive behaviour. And this has had a hugely damaging effect on our council working environment.
"I believe it is most unbecoming of the office of the mayor."
Clout said regardless of past trouble, each elected member had the power to be the change the council needed.
Clout's comments were met with rousing applause from the public, who at times affirmed similar statements with "hear, hear" or "that's right".
Councillor Jako Abrie likened the situation to that of playing ball in the backyard.
"Someone has shoulder charged someone and there has been a tackle and it's broken into a fight. I'm looking forward to getting some independent referees in here to ask some questions."
Abrie said each elected member needed to challenge themselves and look in the mirror if the council was going to move forward together.
Councillor Heidi Hughes supported Abrie's comments, saying his submission was "bang on".
Councillor Andrew Hollis had concerns "that habits may not change".
"It may just be that when the public's watching everything will seem fine and dandy.
"There is an elephant in this room. I don't think we are addressing that. I don't think the observers will address that. However, I will support this. I don't see any other option."
Councillor Steve Morris, the one who led the call for Powell's resignation this week, said he wanted consequences to come from the observer.
"I don't want this just to be a casual observer who writes a nice report. I want this observer to be frankly reporting to the minister."
Morris told the council and public gallery he was one of four men who escorted a female colleague to and from the building because she said she was scared for her safety due to the work environment created by Powell.
Seasoned councillor Bill Grainger said he had never seen anything like this in his five terms in council.
"There's personal dislikes, hate, we've had that in the past but to this level? No. We've got to move on but we can't unless we're a team."
Grainger addressed Powell, referring to a recent one on one where he asked the mayor whether he could work with those councillors who hated him and where Powell had said he would not.
Powell responded by promising to do better.
"I'm sad we've got to this point," he said.
"Collectively we are letting the residents down who have elected us to govern this city. This has to change and I totally accept my responsibility for having played a part in that.
"As Andrew said, we don't have to agree but we do have to respect each other's right to express views differently."
Powell said some of the recent behaviour among councillors was "unacceptable and reprehensible".
"There will always be those that undermine change and I ask them to stop."
Then, Powell acknowledged his role once more.
"I can honestly say that I have not been good at ignoring provocation. This is something I will be focusing on."
Powell said that bringing in an observer was "a good move".
"I would expect them to call out bad behaviour regardless of where it came from.
"It's time to move forward ... it's time to move together. You have my commitment I will do my best to enable that and be more inclusive and polite."
Tauranga's elected members - Where they stand
Mayor Tenby Powell: "I can honestly say that I have not been good at ignoring provocation. This is something I will be focusing on."
Councillor Kelvin Clout: "I've been shocked and saddened by the way out mayor has on multiple occasions now verbally exploded, used foul language and displayed aggressive behaviour."
Councillor Dawn Kiddie: "We have all made mistakes. We need to draw a line in the sand and move on without fear of retaliation."
Councillor Jako Abrie: "I'm looking forward to getting some independent referees in here to ask some questions."
Councillor Heidi Hughes: "We all need to step up ... I'm looking forward to professional support."
Councillor Andrew Hollis: "There is an elephant in this room. I don't think we are addressing that. I don't think the observers will address that."
Deputy mayor Tina Salisbury: "The behaviour going on right now, no one can justify any of it. We need to up our game."
Councillor Steve Morris: "The informal relationship outside the chambers, that's the issue."
Councillor Bill Grainger: "There's personal dislikes, hate, we've had that in the past but to this level? No."
Councillor John Robson: "If this is some form of bureaucratic politically driven attempt to pretend there's nothing fundamentally wrong here ... I will ... withdraw my support."
Councillor Larry Baldock: "Expecting someone to work with you when they have expressed publicly they want you to resign and have shown hatred for you is just not rational."