Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has issued a strong message to his critics on council, saying he respects all councillors but expects the same sort of respect back.
Last night, Goff was reluctant to admit any failure on his part to a letter from nine of the 19 councillors that he runs a "non-inclusive style of leadership" and trust and transparency at council is getting worse.
The letter expressed "strong dissatisfaction " over his handling of a $923,000 million PwC pre-feasibility report into a central city stadium costed at up to $1.5 billion.
Councillors John Watson, Wayne Walker, Greg Sayers, Mike Lee, Cathy Casey, Efeso Collins, Chris Fletcher, Daniel Newman and Sharon Stewart signed the letter.
The mayor was particularly upset at separate claims by councillors Sharon Stewart and Chris Fletcher of a culture of bullying on council. Stewart claimed to have been bullied over the regional fuel tax.
A mayoral spokesman responded that "bullying is unacceptable and the Mayor takes any allegation of this sort of behaviour seriously. He has invited Councillor Fletcher to discuss her concerns with him directly today".
Goff later said he had received an assurance from Fletcher that a letter she sent to him saying "bullying in any form is unacceptable to me" was not a personal reference to him.
Asked if believed he had done anything wrong, Goff said he constantly looked at ways of working more effectively with councillors and would keep doing that.
"I'm open to criticism, but I stand by what I have said. I have an open door for councillors ... I listen to what other people have to say.
"I'll have a discussion with any councillor about how we can do things better, but it has to be a two-way street. The respect I give to others, I expect to receive back in kind and that is not unreasonable," Goff said.
Councillor Chris Darby, a member of Goff's inner circle and planning committee chairman, said the mayor had made a deliberate effort to embrace councillors, welcome them to leadership roles and share the workload around, but often these invitations had been rebuffed.
"It always takes two to tango. If this is about relationships we all need to take responsibility and recognise it's two or more people in the tango," he said.
In a formal response to the letter from the nine councillors, Goff said he was "committed to working collaboratively with all of you".
The mayor said he does not chair meetings autocratically, but was required to exercise leadership and make recommendations which councillors will not always agree with.
"That is the nature of the job and I don't retreat from that responsibility," said Goff, saying political decisions do create division and controversy at times.
Goff made the point he requires the support of a majority of councillors to pass every measure.
Goff's letter outlined the background and history to the stadium issue and reiterated that he had made copies of the PwC feasibility and funding reports "immediately available to councillors to read".
Council staff had advised him that the Ombudsman regarded the approach he had taken as reasonable, he said.
The councillors' letter cited Goff's handling of the recent controversy over a proposed new downtown stadium for Auckland and his refusal to give councillors full and open access to the PwC report as the reasons for the move.
Over the course of a year Goff had made no attempt to inform councillors on the contents of the report, the letter read.
The councillors pointed to a "rather distrustful political working environment within council" going back to a December meeting where Goff attempted to remove Albany councillor Wayne Walker as deputy chairman of the regulatory committee, to be replaced by deputy mayor Bill Cashmore.
At the meeting Goff faced a barrage of criticism over his leadership style and the hurt he inflicted on Walker, whose only warning was a phone message.
The councillors said in the letter they hoped the December incident might have provided an opportunity to start afresh and ensure a more positive and constructive working relationship.