It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, and it was the last meeting of Auckland Council in its third term running the Auckland Super City. It started badly.
First item: an update report on staff health, safety and wellbeing, which noted that "violence" is the number one risk they face.
In the three months to August, they've had to deal with 53 incidents of threatening, abusive or anti-social behaviour. Eleven incidents of assault or other violence. Most of them occurred in libraries.
The discussion quickly turned nasty. Councillor Wayne Walker, of Albany, asked whether council officers might be bringing the attacks on themselves, with the quality of service they provide. Councillor Alf Filipaina, of Manukau, without naming Walker, accused "some councillors" of stirring up anger against council staff.
Councillor John Watson, also of Albany, said that was a "red herring", because it's councillors' job to query what they don't think is being done well. Councillor Mike Lee, of Waitematā, said, "Let's have no more shallow political points scoring. Leave that to the hustings."
It emerged later that library staff are exceptionally highly regarded by most of us, but perhaps we've never had to suffer the indignity of a book not being there when we wanted it.
Councillor Penny Hulse, Waitākere's retiring member, said it was "despicable" to blame officials. She said she was leaving council at a time of "growing hatred, anger, misinformation and abuse of our staff".
She then brought up criticisms of the head of the council's design office, Ludo Campbell-Reid, which feature in the campaign advertising of "a certain election candidate". She meant mayoral hopeful John Tamihere.
It was unacceptable for a council officer to be attacked in that way, she said. "We should take responsibility and I hope we do take some action against this hate speech. Ludo is doing the job we asked him to do."
Mayor Phil Goff agreed it was inappropriate but noted the attack was "not coming from a sitting councillor". Tamihere's running mate, Christine Fletcher, who is a sitting councillor, in the Albert-Eden-Puketāpapa ward, said nothing.
Filipaina rejoined the fray to say attacks on staff from councillors "are not a red herring". He said personal attacks happening in this election had made this year "the worst year in my 16 years in politics".
They moved on. A large group of Ihumātao protesters came forward and unfurled a banner: "The council must be part of the solution." Leader Pania Newton, in gumboots, was with them. They sang a waiata, chanted some slogans and then left.
"Thank you, matua!" shouted one of the protesters to Goff on the way out. "I will vote for you if you do something for me!"
Hulse said later, in her valedictory speech, that she was thrilled to see them there. "I started my political career as a protester," she said. "It's great that council accepts this is an important part of the democratic process."
Next up was Miriam Dean, chair of the council's independent "value for money" committee. She confirmed the council had saved $270 million over three years, $10 million more than expected, with a more streamlined operation and better procurement process right across the council group.
The value of the exercise was not just in the money saved, she said. It also helps improve service. "Librarians are doing such a good job, we want to see what lessons we can learn from them to take across to other services."
The review also gave council the chance to build trust and confidence in civic institutions. "That's so vital in these times."
But, she said, council is missing that chance because it is not good at telling ratepayers about it. Goff said they will "have to focus much more on that".
Councillor Desley Simpson, of Ōrākei, who together with Goff pushed hard for the review, said $270 million would buy 300 playgrounds, or 70km of cycle lanes, or 300 e-buses. It equated to a 16 per cent rates rise. "$270 million is huge," said Goff.
And then it was time for the valedictories: Hulse and Sir John Walker, both retiring after years of service. Goff's predecessor, Len Brown, was there, making his first visit to a council meeting since retiring in 2016. Almost everyone had dressed up, but it was Brown, not previously known for sartorial flair, who stole the show in an extremely elegant long black wool coat.
Walker is very ill and made a short, moving speech about how rewarding public service had been, and how grateful he was to everyone, especially those who always brought him a cup of tea. "You know who you are."
Walker brought out the best in his colleagues, because he brought out their kindness.
Hulse traversed a 27-year career in politics, first in Waitākere, where she rose to be deputy mayor, and then on Auckland Council, where she was deputy mayor for two terms before Goff reassigned her to lead the Environment and Community Committee.
"I thought at first it was a jumble of leftovers, but it turned out to be the best committee I've ever chaired." From kauri dieback to water quality and the climate emergency, the environment has climbed sharply up the council's priority list. Goff has fronted the change but Hulse made it happen.
She talked about the "rabble rousing" she'd done in her younger days, filling halls, disrupting meetings. "There's nothing like speaking with 200 angry people behind you."
But when she got herself elected, "I realised the real bravery is rolling your sleeves up and finding a way forward. Giving up some of that populism to get a lasting result."
They had "a heck of a lot more fun" in Waitākere. Wine after the meetings. Locking protesters out and then sending them beer and pizzas. When mayor Bob Harvey mooned one of his staunchest critics, she made him a birthday cake with a chocolate bum on it. "He didn't like that."
The formation of the Super City, she said, "cut across 18 years of community development". She praised Brown. "He was exactly the right person. Relentlessly positive, there was his wonderful singing, and he energised council." Hulse basically did his job for much of the second term, as he dealt with the fallout from his sex scandal.
He also charged her with introducing the Unitary Plan, of which she was "incredibly proud". At community meetings in Ōrākei, she said, "they had orchardists' scythes and other sharp weapons on the walls, and they really yelled at me when I told them they couldn't subdivide their land. But after, they gave me cups of tea and wished me well getting home."
It was different in St Heliers. "I've never seen such anger. Never. And the issue was the need for more affordable houses."
She explained her useful rule. "If you look around the room and they're all like you, the same colour, the same age, the same sort of people, you know they're not speaking for everyone."
She said it had got so hard, being a councillor now. Social media made it worse because "people bring their own facts". But "the people out there have had a gutsful of all the negativity".
She called for more kindness, and inclusion, and safety. "Put down the social media screens," she said. To build this city, we can't do it just with people arguing for more for their own. "Regional equity in facilities, parks, playgrounds, it's important and it might mean you get a bit less, or you get a bit more. We need to learn to share."