Texts released by Tauranga City Council show Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell called a colleague a "soft c**k" and a "spineless coward" appear to show he considered resigning during a power struggle with a breakaway faction of councillors.
His comments have been revealed in a cache of texts and emails released by Tauranga City Council on Friday night.
The release was in response to official information requests by the Bay of Plenty Times and others for elected member and executive staff communications around an attempted coup for the deputy mayor position two months ago.
Parts of the communications were redacted by the council, which cited privacy reasons.
Powell today acknowledged to the Bay of Plenty Times the community disappointment at his, and others', statements, but said he would not resign or stop pushing for progress in the city.
In a bombshell meeting on June 2, Powell appointed Councillor Tina Salisbury as his new deputy mayor after Councillor Larry Baldock resigned from the role, prompted by an effort by six other councillors - a majority - to force him out.
Long-simmering divisions and clashes in the council publicly boiled over in the weeks that followed.
Friday's information release showed that on June 6, four days after the meeting, Powell texted Baldock to say he was weighing up his options out of concern for his family.
"I think there 's no doubt that I 've lost the community . And while we have great support from biz and iwi leaders , etc, the messages I'm now getting are vicious and threatening. It's all changed and, while I'm up for this level of hate, my family didn't sign up for this. I'm going to make a decision by 1700 Sunday and will let Marty know ."[sic]
In another text message to Baldock after talking to council chief executive Marty Grenfell, Powell said Grenfell "wants me to stay but I think it's now untenable".
In an email to Grenfell the following day, however, Powell expressed his resolve to "box on".
"While I didn't want to play politics, I can now see if I don't fight back, it'll roll over the top of my mayoralty and attrit [sic] the good work we can do together..."
The communications also revealed a strained relationship between Powell and Councillor Kelvin Clout, who ran against Powell for mayor and was deputy to Tauranga's two previous mayors.
Texts suggest Powell offered Clout the role of deputy mayor in late May, but Clout turned it down.
On May 30, Clout sent Powell a list of "concerns around your [Powell's] leadership style" and said the observations were partly why he was reluctant to serve as deputy.
The concerns included Clout's opinion that Powell tended to be a "lone ranger" who had "on more than a few occasions ... displayed bullying and aggressive behaviour".
In response, Powell described himself as a highly motivated, passionate, courageous person who won't be bullied.
"And quite frankly - after your treacherous and cowardly behaviour, a Judas in every regard, I have no interest in your feedback whatsoever. To say I'm disappointed in you is an understatement."
Clout's response the next day included an invitation for Powell to come over for a cuppa and talk.
On May 30, Powell texted Baldock and said that Clout wanted to meet. In the text, Powell said of Clout: "What a soft c**k''.
Baldock emailed his resignation letter on June 1. Salisbury had already accepted a confidential offer to replace him as deputy.
On the morning of June 2, before the meeting, Clout emailed Powell and said he was "willing to offer myself as your DM, and seek to bring healing between council and yourself".
Powell's reply ended with: "How can write an email of this sort while saying it's your intention to run me out of town?" [sic]
The issue of Clout allegedly stating his intention to run Powell and his wife out of town is the subject of several communications revealed in the response.
In texts between the two on June 6 regarding the alleged comment, Powell said he hoped Clout was "proud of what you've done".
"You've placed by [sic] family at risk and I will defend them with every breath."
Clout replied, asking to meet: "Tenby, I have no desire to run you out of town and I certainly aren't powerful enough to do so." In a further text, he said he had "no idea where this comment has been made public" and had "no interest in a hate campaign".
In a June 7 email to Grenfell, he said of Clout's comment that "potentially violence is implied" and there was "little doubt that it's a direct threat".
Texts indicated the pair met on June 9 and started making up, as Clout's support for the six - at that point attempting to oust Salisbury as deputy - waivered.
Clout formally withdrew from the six on June 11, calling for the council to get behind Powell and Salisbury.
Powell texted Clout he was making the right decision. "Chin up now and breathe. Fortes Fortuna Juvat". [Fortune favours the bold].
But in a text to Baldock that evening Powell said of Clout that he was "washing my hands to [sic] this spineless coward".
Mayor, councillors respond
Commenting to the Bay of Plenty Times today, Powell said he was embarrassed by things he said, which were not meant for public consumption.
"The community rightly feel disappointed in some of the personal statements made by elected members, myself included, in relation to the letters of requisition around the deputy mayor and other issues."
"It is fair to say democracy has not been well served in the events of recent months and, as the elected leader of council, I need to take my share of that."
He said the council had "achieved an awful" lot during the 10 months of his tenure as mayor, in spite of the relationship issues and events such as an outbreak of gang violence, the Whakaari eruption and the Covid-19 lockdown.
Achievements included repairing the Mauao base track quickly and under budget, resolving 11 Mission St, setting up Kainga Tupu (mayoral taskforce on homelessness) and setting a budget for 2021.
Now, he was "wholly future-focused".
Powell said he would be asking the elected members to "set aside their personal differences and to start working as a team for the benefit of our city".
"Imagine if we were to work together, what we could achieve, given we have achieved this with all the friction and the toxicity that has happened."
Powell, who has a business background, said his leadership style - based on good strategy and being able to act - had been successful in every other realm he had worked in, and was part of why people voted for him.
"Just because councillors are used to sitting around ad infinitum and not acting, that doesn't mean to say that I should change my leadership style to accommodate that."
Powell told the Bay of Plenty Times he was disappointed when he heard, via hearsay, Clout had made a comment about running him and his wife out of town because his family had been brought into it.
"If anybody is trying to scare me, they picked on the wrong guy because I don't scare easy," Powell said.
Clout earlier today told the Bay of Plenty Times he never said he intended to run Powell out of town and his comments had been misconstrued through "Chinese whispers".
"During the campaign, I felt, as did others, that Tenby had come over to Tauranga from Auckland and was stirring up a lot of discontent.
"I definitely said on a few occasions just privately that I felt he needed to go back to Auckland." He said there was no violent or threatening intent.
Clout said he did not regret his decisions regarding the deputy mayor turmoil, or that it had bought issues within the council to light, but regretted the hurt experienced by people.
Clout said he would not hold a grudge against Powell for his comments and wanted a positive relationship with the mayor.
While some of the messages contained things that were "unpleasant" to read about himself, he believed they were "written in a highly emotional" time.
Clout said he was not the type to hold grudges and this was reinforced by his Christian faith.
"I won't be holding these comments against Tenby.
"My hands are too full trying to address the issues of the city that I don't have room for holding grudges."
Clout said he still hoped the council could come together as a governance team and work together for the city, and had seen good signs of this during the Annual Plan debates and in efforts Powell was making to collaborate better with councillors.
Powell said he was heartened by Clout's comments.
"The things that were said were meant to be private and they were, but they were ungracious. Like Kelvin, I hope that we can move forward with positivity," Powell said.
Baldock said the role of mayor was a tough job and he still believed Powell was doing good work to get the city where it needed to be.
"I would say any mayor who had to put up with the attacks and backroom work to undermine him would have at some point considered the idea of resigning."
He said, in his opinion, Clout had been "a problem" and made commitments to "people he never should have been aligned with" but he gave him credit for "realising his mistake".
Baldock said throughout this episode, the council had made good decisions in chambers and continued with the core business of running the city, and would carry on doing that.