Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell has been ordered to apologise to a fellow councillor he called a "f****** climate-denying racist" in what the city council has determined a breach of its code of conduct.
The council voted unanimously for the apology and to also issue a letter of censure to Powell for his "unacceptable" actions.
The city's elected members met today to discuss an investigation into Powell's actions during a March 5 meeting about proposed rates. During that meeting, Powell remarked that councillors Andrew Hollis and Dawn Kiddie "... need to stop posting the s*** they have over the past couple of weeks".
When Hollis responded by suggesting they talk about that over a drink or coffee, Powell said: "I will never drink with a f****** climate-denying racist".
The meeting involved about 25 council staff and fellow councillors.
Today , Powell told his fellow elected members he was sorry for his outburst.
"I made a mistake."
Powell said he was frustrated by Hollis' social media activity which included references to burning down the Treaty of Waitangi. Powell said such actions divided the council and potentially damaged partnership work with iwi and other council partners.
"He is offended by my calling him a racist. I put out what many out in the community have expressed in this rhetoric."
Powell then left the meeting, of which councillors Hollis and Kiddie were also excluded, while remaining elected members determined his penalty.
Hollis has previously denied he or his posts were racist.
Deputy mayor Larry Baldock, who chaired the meeting, said there was no denying Powell's actions which were "a very bad lapse of the mayor".
"It is not something I've witnessed before in my years in local government," he said.
"It's important to agree with the investigator; this is a breach of conduct. But the investigator also says there has been some mitigating matters; Hollis with the insistent and ongoing social media posts ... However this does not excuse the behaviour that has occurred."
Councillor Steve Morris said the situation was unfortunate and he was deeply disappointed in the mayor.
The mayor's explanation referring to Hollis' social media activity was a "red herring" and a "distraction", Morris said at the meeting.
"This is about the outburst over a rates rise," Morris said.
"I would have hoped that the mayor would have apologised to councillor Hollis but especially councillor Kiddie. She has done nothing wrong."
Councillor John Robson said he was not comfortable with the mayor's outburst or explanation behind it. Other mitigating factors included having worked long hours.
"It takes courage to admit when you are wrong. It takes even greater courage to apologise to those you have wronged. I urge the mayor to take courage," Robson said.
Councillor Tina Salisbury said she believed allowing disrespectful remarks to stay on social media also went against the code of conduct.
She said, however: "As someone who has experienced violence and aggression in the past, regardless of the causes, it's unacceptable behaviour from someone in a leadership position in this city."
Councillor Heidi Hughes said Powell's comments had damaged the elected members' ability to work as a team.
"We need to recognise that councillor Hollis has been implicated in building this to a place we got to today. By understanding that, we all need to look to go forward from here as a team together."
The councillors voted unanimously to send a letter to Powell censuring him for his behaviour and asking him to write letters of apology to each Hollis and Kiddie.