A Western Bay councillor has lashed out at her colleagues, describing the mayor as a ''dictator'' and the other councillors as ''dumbed-down'' and ''brainwashed'' over potentially returning land to iwi.
But the claims by Western Bay of Plenty District councillor Christina Humphreys have been strongly disputed by other councillors, one of whom said it was sad to have their ''dirty linen'' aired so publicly.
Mayor Garry Webber said he was not known for being a dictator in his working career or on council.
made her comments as controversy continues over the potential return of Panepane Point to local iwi.
The mayor asked her at a confidential meeting last week to stand down from voting on the proposal because she had made a submission on it as a private citizen, an example of predetermination.
The council will meet at Trustpower Baypark Stadium on October 29, where elected members will decide on the proposal to return 165 hectares of Panepane Point, also known as Purakau.
If accepted, the council will return ownership of the land to a trust representing the five hapū of Ngai Tuwhiwhia, Ngati Tauaiti, Te Ngare, Te Whānau a Tauwhao and Ngai Tamawhariua.
The submission process drew 7381 submissions, including one from Humphreys in which she indicated that she would vote against the return of land, prompting the request for her to step aside on having a council vote.
But Humphreys told the Bay of Plenty Times the vote was, in her view, already pre-empted by Webber influencing her colleagues to "vote to a way to thinking".
She said in her opinion: "He's just out to get me. I think it's wrong what he's done. The others are all dumbed down, brain-washed."
Humphreys said she did not want to stand down, despite confirming her error in filing a submission.
"I probably shouldn't have done that. I suppose it's a hopeless case anyway."
Humphreys said she had been elected as a councillor because her opposition on certain issues such as returning land to Māori was well known. She was doing right by her voters, she said.
She questioned Webber's previous public statement that voting to consult on the potential return of the land was "the right thing to do".
Humphreys said in her opinion: "I don't think he's done this fairly. He is a dictator, they are all frightened of him."
When asked if he was a dictator and influencing councillors, Webber said he would prefer not to comment on the claims.
"It's not something I've ever been recognised doing in my working career or, to my understanding, in local government," he said.
Councillor Mark Dean confirmed Humphreys' submission prompted him to call for her resignation in a meeting last week "but it was an off the cuff, stupid comment". "I retracted it straight away."
However, the claim councillors were frightened was "a load of rubbish", he said.
"That's not true. When you are sworn to be a councillor you are sworn to do the best for the whole district, that's what I'm meaning. You don't vote for your own personal view. You have to represent the whole district."
Deputy mayor and councillor John Scrimgeour
said: "I categorically reject any suggestion that I'm frightened of the mayor".
"On occasion I have had a disagreement with him in council, not to do with Panepane Point but in other meetings and workshops. I absolutely reject that claim."
Councillor Margaret Murray-Benge said it was the issue that mattered and there was no place for personal politics in local government.
She said in her view: "Unfortunately the inexperienced or the inadequate fall into that trap."
"I think it's a pity that these statements are made. One can be angry, one can have a different point of view but there's no point in us hanging our dirty linen out in public."
Councillor Monique Lints said none of Humphreys' statements were correct and "we were all elected to listen and respond in the interest of all members of our community".
Lints would be making her decision based on all the voices she heard through the consultation process, she said.
Seasoned councillor Don Thwaites said he had previously withdrawn from some council matters in which he believed he had a conflict of interest.
Thwaites said it was "councillor 101" that an elected member could not make a submission on an issue and expect to later vote on it.
"I've been a councillor for 10 years through this Panepane Point process for several. [Former mayor] Ross Paterson
kicked it off really. Garry is certainly not a dictator. He's really fair."
Councillor Murray Grainger said the Panepane Point issue was originally raised years ago, before Webber and many other councillors sat on the council.
He disputed the claim Webber was a dictator, citing successfully working through their opposing views to keep the old Ōmokoroa library in McDonnell St for future use.
Councillor Anne Henry
said she had not been frightened or influenced by anyone and would continue to view submissions before coming to a vote next month.
Councillor James Denyer said Humphreys' claims did not reconcile with his experience on council.
"I am proud to be part of a council that discusses differences of opinions in a constructive and respectful, yet still robust way. I hope that all councillors will continue that kaupapa."
Councillor Grant Dally said the elected members' team took the necessity of open-mindedness and fair consideration of all views on an issue such as Panepane Point very seriously. Any suggestion they were influenced was incorrect, he said.
Western Bay councillor Kevin Marsh declined to comment.
Earlier this year, Rotorua Lakes Council sought advice in relation to concerns of the risk of predetermination regarding councillor Reynold Macpherson, after he submitted as a private citizen on a sewerage management proposal and the 2020/2021 Annual Plan while remaining involved in discussion and decision-making on those matters as a councillor.
Chief executive Geoff Williams said at the time the advice was to pre-empt a potential "worst-case scenario" of an affected party challenging a council decision through judicial review.
A guide from the Controller of the Auditor-General states predetermination is derived from the common law on bias. The underlying risk with predetermination was the same as for conflicts of interest - that a person could taint a decision because they were biased.
Someone working in public office is at particular risk of this if what they say indicates they have made up their mind about a matter before it is deliberated on. This was particularly so for quasi-judicial decisions, which directly affect the legal rights, interests and obligations of an individual or small group of individuals.
Ensuring that the conflicted person is no longer involved in the public
organisation's work on the particular matter, through withdrawal, removal, or
reassignment, is the most typical mitigation option, the guide said.
The predetermination 'conundrum'
Associate Professor Dr Dean Knight described the predetermination matter as a "conundrum" for many councils.
"The problem is the law requires councils to have an open mind, especially when they make certain types of decisions," he said.
Dr Knight, who is based at Victoria University of Wellington, said it was important that councils took onboard submissions and feedback without prejudice "so it doesn't make the consultation just a charade".
"It's about keeping the minds of the decision-makers open but that does not mean empty.
"Normally it's fine for a council to come to a decision-making process with their leanings but they can't tip too far with their leanings and say they've made up their mind or they will never change their mind."
Dr Knight said the issue lay with the difference between representative democracy and participation democracy.
"You elect councillors often because of their strong views and democratically we want them to have views but legally they can't be too eager with their views."
Dr Knight said a councillor making a submission on an issue he or she would later expect to vote on was a "strong signal of predetermination".
"It's hard to look into their mind so you are relying on what they say."
If someone felt a council decision had been influenced by predetermination, the council could be challenged on the matter in a judicial review and potentially ordered to revisit the decision-making process.
The High Court can undertake a judicial review to determine if a council decision is lawful. One of the most likely grounds for a review includes an elected member making up his or her mind before hearing or considering all relevant matters (predetermination).