Leaked emails reveal the tension between Wellington City Council's chief executive and Simon Woolf in the lead up to a code of conduct investigation into the councillor.
Woolf accuses Kevin Lavery of "spin" and a "lack of good judgment", while Lavery accuses Woolf of creating inferences in the media that "could not be further from the truth".
It's understood the complaint centres around Woolf wading into staffing employment matters, in particular comments he made about an Employment Relations Authority decision, which looked into alleged bullying of a former council staff member.
Those comments were reported in the Dominion Post on August 21, 2019 in a story about the amount of ratepayer money spent on the workplace bullying claim.
"Councillor Simon Woolf said Rampton's ERA fight was a 'David and Goliath' battle that had likely cost much more than $98,000 to resolve when staff time was taken into account.
"Council has so much ratepayer resource and we fight to win at all costs", the article said.
Emails Lavery sent to Woolf following the news story reveal exactly what he thought about the comments.
Lavery told Woolf they allowed readers to infer the council unreasonably pursued the matter and could be read as criticisms of officers involved.
"These inferences could not be further from the truth but unfortunately, your comments allow them to be drawn.
"The staff involved have been distressed by those comments and your involvement in the matter. I feel that I have no option but to raise this directly with the mayor."
Woolf said his comments were "innocuous".
On the day the council received the ERA decision an email was sent on behalf of Lavery to councillors giving them a copy of the statement provided to media.
It said the council was pleased to receive the decision that Angela Rampton had not been constructively or unjustifiably dismissed, and that she had not been bullied.
It acknowledged the authority did find one failure by the council but not that $20,000 had been awarded to Rampton as a result.
Woolf replied asking for more information about this failure, whether there was a remedy, and how the council could learn from it.
The following morning the situation heated up in an email Woolf sent to councillors as the story landed on the front page of the Dominion Post on August 21.
"Kevin's 'heads up' was spin, and a lack of good judgment", Woolf wrote.
"What we received last night was at best naïve, and at worst an omission by stealth."
Woolf said the result of the case entered into the governance realm and councillors deserved to be given a complete picture of the situation from the operational arm of council.
WCC was not acting as a model litigant or being fair and reasonable, he said.
"Is a win at all costs, expensive, litigious culture something we should be promoting, or could we do better? I am sure we can do a lot better!".
A code of conduct investigation was later set in motion under former mayor Justin Lester, which has now landed on Andy Foster's plate.
Wellington City Council's code of conduct states elected members should avoid publicly criticising any employee in any way, but especially in ways that reflect on the competence and integrity of the employee.
The new mayor has indicated he wants to draw a line under the whole thing and confirmed a meeting was being held this week.
When contacted by the Herald, Woolf wouldn't comment further than to say "there should be a process in place and what's happening at the moment is completely unprofessional".
Lavery declined to comment.