Ōpōtiki Mayor Lyn Riesterer has made an official complaint about councillor Barry Howe, saying he is in breach of the council's Code of Conduct.
Howe took to the Ōpōtiki Community Notices Facebook page last week, revealing an option council was considering, to use a retail building about to be built in Church St as its new offices.
He said, in his post last Tuesday, that the option would use $3 million of provincial growth funding and a further $4.5 million in ratepayer funding, $3 million more than had been allocated for the current building. The post resulted in a storm of protest on the Facebook page and had to be removed by the page's administrators due to personal verbal attacks people were making against council staff both online and in person.
Howe said he had been told by Mayor Lyn Riesterer that she had asked for an internal investigation of his conduct for spreading misinformation.
"It's a storm in a teacup," Howe told Local Democracy Reporting. "The mayor is driving it. I've had emails from her saying I have broken the code of conduct."
He said though he had no regrets about telling the public what the council was planning, he hadn't expected his post to attract as much attention and vitriol as it had.
"It went viral and there was a lot of personal accusations on there too. I totally disagree with people personally attacking our staff because people are only doing their job. What I intended to do is find out whether people thought it was a good idea or not. It got itself blown out of proportion really. But that's not saying that I regret telling the public what's happening.
"I'm a bit disappointed that they want to make a mountain out of a molehill over something that I couldn't control, which was the attack on the staff. My intentions were far from doing anything like that."
Howe said he is just waiting to see what would come of the investigation.
"I'm not going away that's for sure. I'm born and bred Ōpōtiki and I'll stick up for what I believe in. That's who I am."
The council's Code of Conduct, which sets out standards of behaviour expected from elected members says that comments made on social media "must not purposefully misrepresent the views of the council or the views of other members".
Ōpōtiki District Council chief executive Aileen Lawrie confirmed yesterday that she had received a complaint about a breach of the code of conduct from the mayor. She had referred the matter to an external investigator to provide an independent, initial assessment about whether the matter should go forward through the process. No further information would be shared until the appropriate time in the Code of Conduct process outlined on the council's website.
The Ōpōtiki District Council Code of Conduct can be found on the website.
New council offices will be needed eventually.
The issue at the heart of the Code of Conduct complaint is a suggestion made during a workshop that Ōpōtiki District Council move from its current offices to the new retail and office building that is soon to be under construction in Church St.
Mayor Lyn Riesterer told Local Democracy Reporting that the need for increased office space for the council had been discussed several times over the past few years and funding of $1 million had been set aside in the long-term plan to investigate options and start work on extending office space and facilities.
"What most councillors have tried to express through this process is that the reason we asked for more information on the use of the CBD site is because it provided an opportunity to resolve several matters at once and I think it would be remiss not to look more closely at the opportunity while we have the chance."
Some of the issues with the existing council offices include lack of space and toilet facilities, lack of meeting rooms and IT spaces, and issues with asbestos.
"We have a building already budgeted for and partially funded through Provincial Growth Funding ready to be built. We don't have much interest from tenants in that building and the last thing we want is an empty building in town again. We are working to revitalise and bring more people, business and vibrancy to the CBD - more people buying coffees and lunches, shopping and using the spaces."
Riesterer said the council had quite a lot of interest from various groups for different uses for the current council office spaces and footprint.
"We asked council staff to look further into it because there is the chance we could find a solution that resolves all these at once that is cost neutral to ratepayers. We don't know the answers yet and I have not seen the final paper that might give me a better idea of how this stacks up.
"One option is to kick the can down the road for a little while, especially on the council offices issues, but when the problem arises again, and it is certain to do so, we will be back in the same situation with the need to rehome or refurbish council offices, but we won't necessarily have all the other advantages we have now. We need to see how this stacks up at the meeting on December 21."