Hastings councillors have voted to hire an independent investigator to uncover who leaked details of a proposed multi-million dollar water museum to Hawke's Bay Today.
How long the investigation will take remains unclear, though one councillor has suggested it could cost more than $100,000.
A divided council met on Friday morning at an extraordinary public meeting held in the wake of the Water Central details being made public.
Water Central is a proposed 10m high building on the corner of Southampton St East and Hastings St South which would have the purpose of telling the story of water.
It would cost $8.6 million over two years (2020/2021) and would be funded externally by Hastings District Council, and not through ratepayers.
Councillors spent two hours in chambers on Friday in an at-times heated discussion.
In the end, three councillors voted against the motion: Simon Nixon, Malcolm Dixon and Damon Harvey.
Since last Thursday, mayor, Sandra Hazlehurst has been steadfast in her search for the source of the leak. However, some constituents have labelled it a "witchhunt".
Hazlehurst, who put forward the motion, said the "breach of confidentiality" has put enormous stress [and] "caused a great deal of anger to both the staff and councillors".
She added that the "integrity of the whole organisation has been challenged".
"This is not the place we want it to be two weeks out from the completion of our term."
Hastings-Havelock North Ward Councillor Wendy Schollum, who seconded the motion, said the terms of reference for the investigation need to include the breach of trust that occurred during councillor-only time on September 26 and 27.
"The fact that information was released from councillor only time, at which only councillors were present, raises a very valid concern for me and focuses the investigation somewhat," Schollum said.
She said was "completely satisfied" that the intent of council staff was a "full and extensive consultation with our public".
"This is not a heroic whistleblower who released this information, this is an individual who is looking to undermine what council is trying to achieve."
She said not pursuing this investigation had the potential to waste more ratepayer money.
"The reason for that is you need only look at what the time our staff have suddenly had to invest in rushing a process that was already on a road to being done in a correct way and released to the public in a correct manner."
Schollum was pulled into line by Hazlehurst, for laughing while those against the investigation spoke.
Chief executive Nigel Bickle said it was important to ensure that "actually, it hasn't been one of our staff, or gaps in our systems, or our processes for managing information".
"The deep sense of concern within the organisation is eroded trust and confidence."
Hastings-Havelock North Ward councillor Malcolm Dixon said while he was more than prepared to hand over all his devices, he questioned why he should.
"If I sign the declaration, that will give me a feel-good factor, if I don't sign it, I'm under suspicion and that's a breach of natural justice."
Travers said: "unless we have an investigation that prescribes some blame, then that cloud will hang over all of us for all time".
Rod Heaps, who seconded the motion at the September 10 meeting to put Water Central into public excluded, said in hindsight, it should have been in the public anyway.
"The role of what we've received is huge, and what's been taken out of that is very, very minimal in regards to commercial sensitivity."
Simon Nixon apologised for voting for the item to be publically excluded in the first place, and for originally thinking it was an idea.
He said it could cost more than $100,000 or more on something that could "yield precisely nothing", with Schollum replying back that it would not cost that much.