A woman greeting an audience in te reo Māori was met with loud shouting and jeers at the launch of a new ratepayers' group in Tauranga on Wednesday.
"Speak English" and "we don't want to hear that" were among the calls from a large portion of crowd that overpowered Kim Williams' voice as she addressed roughly 300 people at the launch of the Tauranga Ratepayers' Alliance at Club Mount Maunganui.
Kim Williams, the spokeswoman for the group's steering committee, said she addressed the audience in English first and was only saying "six little words in greeting and thanks" in te reo Māori when the outbursts happened.
"All I wanted to do when I got off that stage was walk straight out the door. It took every inch of me to go back to my seat and sit there through the rest of it, and to try not [to] react," she told the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday.
Discussing the incident brought her to tears.
After the incident, MC Peter Williams reprimanded the audience, saying their reaction was, in his view, "exceedingly rude" — later telling the Bay of Plenty Times it was "awful, embarrassing and shameful".
Kim Williams hoped the incident did not take away from the purpose of the meeting but said it was "really sad" they could not respect her greeting.
"It put a real stain on our evening," she said. "We were all there for the same cause and goals. This is about Tauranga and working together."
The alliance is a new group, backed by the Taxpayers' Union, that aims to hold Tauranga City Council to account on behalf of ratepayers. She said the aim of the group was to reduce wasteful council spending, increase transparency and accountability.
The group was formed in response to the Government replacing elected members with appointed commissioners earlier this year. Supporters of the alliance included ousted councillors as well as Tauranga MP Simon Bridges, of National.
Kim Williams said: "I hope that what happened didn't take away from what we are trying to do."
She was overall pleased with how the event went and planned to do roadshows for the group in other suburbs to reach different crowds.
"It's not about me and my culture, this is about us and our city."
Pāpāmoa Residents and Ratepayers Association committee member Keegan Miller, 21, walked out as soon as the uproar happened.
"When Kimiora got up and did her mihi, I was expecting a few people to groan, but the reaction that was there showed it was a huge amount of people. Someone behind me yelled out 'get off the stage'."
Miller said he then decided he did not want to support a group with that rhetoric, and left.
"Another young person followed me out and we had a discussion about it, got in our cars and drove home."
Ngāi Te Rangi chief executive Paora Stanley said there were "no surprises there" when he heard about the incident.
In his opinion: "[It's] a sad indictment upon them and the city." The word that came to his mind was "coprolite", which he defines as "an archaeological scat".
Bridges was the keynote speaker at the event.
"It was a generally constructive meeting but what happened regarding Kim was unacceptable," he told the Bay of Plenty Times.
In his speech, he said he wanted to see tangible results from rate increases so he "wholeheartedly" agreed with the group's cause.
"I want to see what we are getting for that money," he said, which was met with applause.
Bridges said he told commissioners: "It's my job to hold you to account."
Peter Williams said he had lived in Mount Maunganui for 10 years, and was "bloody angry at the amount of money it's costing me to live in this town".
He told the audience in 2011, his rates were $3300 per year. This year, his rates were $6800 per year.
"I want democracy back in this city, and people to be able to vote for their councillors. We're going to do our best to restore local democracy to Tauranga city."
Ratepayers' Alliance seeks to 'regain power'
Executive director of the Taxpayers' Union Jordan Williams said the group was about standing up for ratepayers, transparency, sensible spending and accountability from the commissioners.
"You've got four commissioners that are our elected representatives but without the elected bit. That is the problem with the status quo – we can't kick [the commissioners] out."
Alliance steering group member Dawn Kiddie, who was among the councillors ousted from their roles when the commissioners started earlier this year, said the group was about "moving the city forward in an ethically, environmentally, socially acceptable way".
"We need to make a stand as a community. Regain the power back to the ones who pay the rates, and a voice to stand up to Tauranga City Council and the commissioners."
Asked to respond to comments from the meeting, council general manager of corporate services Paul Davidson said rate rises were still just proposals at this stage.
He said they were needed for "substantial investment" in the city's infrastructure.
"Tauranga has fallen behind with needed investment in community facilities and other infrastructure, and this has started to affect our residents' quality of life. We have limited options for walking, cycling, playing sports and attending cultural events."
The investment would allow more homes to be built and help people move around the city more easily, he said.
"We're proposing to invest $2.5 billion to open up land for homes and businesses, $1.9b in transport, $126 million in the city centre and $672m in community spaces and places."
"We'll need to fund these investments by various means, including rates.
"The proposed median residential rates increase is $7.58 per week."
According to the council's draft Long-term Plan, the proposed median residential rates rise is 17 per cent for residential ratepayers – including the new kerbside service – and 35 per cent for commercial ratepayers.