Calls for Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell to resign and simmering tensions among the city's elected members have come to a head in an emergency council meeting today. Elected members have voted in favour of four recommendations which will see the council appointed observer monitor the elected members' interaction with each other.
Tauranga City Council called the emergency meeting for 9.30am following significant conflict and deep division of city councillors.
By 9am the socially distanced public gallery was mostly filled by local business and community leaders. Among those gathered included Sir Paul Adams, Dame Susan Devoy and builder Danny Cancian who is in currently involved in a court case involving the council.
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 John Robson began the meeting by asking the mayor to declare a potential conflict of interest after having been made aware that Powell belonged to a form of "brotherhood".
Powell asked what this brotherhood was to which Robson responded he had no idea but was concerned there could be a potential conflict of interest. Powell said: "If you are talking about the military, which I think you are, I have no conflict."
Councillor Kelvin Clout began by making a quip likening the council's current situation to that of an episode of television show House of Cards.
Clout commended Powell on enhancing relationships with key city stakeholders but said his "antics" were unacceptable.
"The role of the mayor is to provide leadership over the other members of council. It is in this role I believe he has failed.
"Mr Powell, people trust you to bring this diverse group of councillors together. For the most part, we 10 councillors sitting around here work really well together. We largely enjoy each other.
"Unlike business or the military, in politics we and our colleagues are chosen by the community and are accountable to them.
"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. And this has had a hugely damaging affect on our council working environment."
Clout said regardless of past trouble, each elected member had the power to be the change the council needed. His speech was met with rousing applause from the public gallery – who was mostly a who's who of Tauranga's business and community leaders.
Councillor Jako Abrie said in the meeting he 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 John Robson said his oath was to the city "first and only".
"There's no other person or group I bow to. I'm here for the people of the city of Tauranga."
At the end of each councillor's submissions, Powell responded by promising to do better.
"I'm sad we've got to this point. 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 antics were "unacceptable and reprehensible".
"There will always be those that undermine change and I ask them to stop."
Then, Powell admitted his role in the situation.
"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."
Local Government Minister briefed
The Department of Internal Affairs has expressed concern over reports of "significant conflict" in the council and asked for a response, and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta has also been briefed.
Today, elected members will vote on recommendations to either accept Crown observers to intervene or work together themselves to better their relationships.
It will be their first public meeting since councillor Steve Morris told the Bay of Plenty Times this week he wanted Powell to resign, claiming the mayor had created a "horrible" workplace environment where people did not feel safe and could not speak frankly.
Powell disputed this, saying he was committed to leading Tauranga positively and would do his best to ensure a core group of councillors were more united.
Morris' concerns were supported by four other councillors.
The development is the latest in a series of revelations involving some of the city's elected members, who have in recent months been involved in high-profile outbursts, meeting walkouts and the ousting of former deputy mayor Larry Baldock.