A decision on the management of the Aquatic Centre may go back to the drawing board in what has been described as a "victory for Rotorua".
The Rotorua Lakes Council's Operations and Monitoring Committee has voted to recommend to the full council that it "go back to the drawing board and properly consider all management options including the staff proposal and development opportunities for the Aquatic Centre".
The move was greeted with cheers and clapping from about 25 members of the public in the public gallery, following what was, at times, a heated debate around the council table.
The centre had been shrouded in controversy since the council announced plans to partner with Community Leisure Management (CLM) over its management late last year.
Aquatic Centre staff were allowed to compile and present a proposal after the Amalgamated Workers Union complained to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) that the process of engagement with the union had been inadequate.
Some of those staff took time off work todayto hear the proposal put to committee members.
The proposal outlined a model in which "connection with community would be far more purposeful; the expression of biculturalism would be far more evident; and a staff centred management model would take responsibility for daily operations".
It claimed the new model would result in savings of $520,000 in its first year compared to the current in-house model. The CLM model would result in savings of $700,000.
Committee chairman councillor Charles Sturt threatened to clear the public gallery at one stage, following interruptions from members of the public.
Security staff were present during the meeting.
Concerns were raised during the meeting about the information provided to councillors and committee members by council staff, prior to the initial decision to outsource.
Councillor Rob Kent moved the motion that was later passed.
Kent believed not all possible management options had been explored.
He was not criticising staff, he said, but he was not satisfied with the objectivity of some reports appearing before the council.
The initial decision to outsource was "misguided", he said.
In giving her support to the motion, councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said she did not think some councillors were "always happy with the answers we were given".
"I don't believe we received sufficient information."
The proposal was a chance to "press the pause button".
Mayor Steve Chadwick signalled an intent to move a motion that would have asked for aspects of the staff proposal to be incorporated into the CLM agreement.
However, the motion was not made as it was superceded by Kent's motion.
Chadwick said she was "very concerned that we've got professional staff whose reputations are being impugned".
"I don't see that what we've got before us in any shape or form is a management proposal."
Referring to the report presented to the committee by council staff, councillor Tania Tapsell said she was "very concerned at the bias and unfairness coming through the report in front of us".
Acting chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston urged caution in the way committee members discussed staff, saying it was "quite unfortunate" questions about integrity were raised.
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson said questioning the integrity of staff was "very dangerous territory".
He believed going back to the drawing board would "cost a lot and achieve nothing".
Centre staff had asked the council to allow them a further month to develop the proposal.
When asked about the implications of allowing the extra time requested by the centre staff, the council chief executive's office manager Craig Tiriana said it would put on hold any projected savings.
It would also create uncertainty for staff, and about the future of the centre, he said.
"I couldn't say what it would do to CLM's position."
CLM chief executive Craig Carter said CLM still believed that it could "work in collaboration with Rotorua Lakes Council/community and add value to an improved Rotorua Aquatic Centre".
After the committee meeting, Northern Amalgamated Workers Union organiser Robert Popata called the decision "a victory for Rotorua".
Staff, some of whom had taken time off work to attend the meeting, were "ecstatic", he said.
"You couldn't have seen a happier bunch of workers."
The next step was to reach out to council management, he said.
"We want to say 'look, we've had a bit of scrap, like any whanau, now let's get in and make things work'."
The proposal should be one worked on by both the council and centre staff, he said.
"It's been a long, long way to get here, and we need to respect what the community are saying."
The full council will meet on February 28.
How they voted:Councillors Kent, Peter Bentley, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Tania Tapsell, Raj Kumar, Mark Gould, and committee members Jim Stanton and David Waru all voted in favour of the motion.
Mayor Steve Chadwick, deputy mayor Dave Donaldson, and councillors Karen Hunt and Trevor Maxwell voted against the motion.
Committee member Bob Martin abstained from the vote.