Controversial Rotorua councillor Reynold Macpherson is facing three new code of conduct complaints, including one from the council chief executive.
Last year, five complaints were made against the councillor, resulting in nearly $60,000 in costs for ratepayers and the mayor apologising to complainants.
The new complaints relate to three of his social media posts on the Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers Facebook page.
Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive Geoff Williams wrote to mayor Steve Chadwick on March 5 saying the post contained "serious accusations".
They were that raw sewage escaped into the lake, that it was due to the council not investing enough in maintenance and because, as Macpherson claimed in his opinion, "the council switched many tens of millions of ratepayers money into two iwi partnerships".
"The councillor has … provided inaccurate and misleading information to the public which directly undermines the reputation of [the] council," Williams wrote.
He said the staff professionalism was attacked and their reputations impugned.
"The councillor's effort to reposition his comments as opinion, in my view, is simply an attempt to avoid accountability for his actions," Williams alleged.
Williams asked Chadwick to organise an urgent meeting with Macpherson.
The councillor responded asking the mayor to recuse herself, claiming Chadwick's prior request for his apology showed "explicit" predetermination.
In his response, he claimed three others who could be deputised into the facilitator role had also shown predetermination.
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson and councillor Tania Tapsell, chairwoman of the Operations and Monitoring Committee, had also made comments alleging the Facebook post was misleading and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait had alleged on TVNZ's Q+A that dysfunction in councils was because of "invariably older white men, Pākehā men, acting badly".
Addressing Williams' complaint, Macpherson said he believed the accusations that had been called false were "true in the longer term".
He believed raw sewage did reach Lake Rotorua; the sewerage network was documented to be in generally poor condition because of lagging maintenance over successive councils; and in his view the "investment-switching" was documented in consecutive annual plans.
No offence to staff was offered or intended, he said.
In his view, his residents and ratepayers group threatened the "regime" the chief executive and mayor had "jointly controlled since her election in 2013".
"[They] have appeared to have weaponised the code [of conduct] to attack me as a potential challenger and to demand apologies that are intended to undermine my reputation," Macpherson claimed.
He said he wrote the Facebook post before reading an email from the council about the sewage leak. He later edited it to indicate "legitimate divergence in opinion".
He was supporting his wife through a minor medical procedure at the time.
On Friday, Williams told Local Democracy Reporting he had an obligation to ensure the council organisation was a good employer.
"It is a serious matter for staff when there are public accusations by elected members of mismanagement, unprofessionalism or worse."
Macpherson has written to the Ombudsman's office seeking a ruling on the "standing" of the chief executive's complaint and on the predetermination issues, which he claimed prevented him from accessing "natural justice".
Two more complaints
On March 14, Rural Community Board chairwoman Shirley Trumper made a written complaint about Facebook comments by Macpherson regarding outsourcing and the Trility contract.
His post said outsourcing was "not common sense" and "on practical and moral grounds the Trility decision stood as an example of corrupted decision-making, in my opinion".
Trumper complained, alleging Macpherson had shown an "appalling lack of respect to the process of tendering and undermining the integrity of the staff involved".
"Fifteen members of the council committee sat and listened to the [Trility] presentation, so he is throwing into question all of our integrity. Adding 'in my opinion' does not negate his intention."
On March 16, councillor Fisher Wang made a written complaint that Macpherson's comment on Facebook alleging the council was "bussing homeless people in from other centres" was "factually incorrect".
"I hope he [Macpherson] retracts his statement, it is misleading and tarnishes our reputation as an organisation."
He said the council had to take a stand against what, in his view, were "petty statements made to misinform our community".
Williams, Trumper and Wang all formalised their complaints under the council's elected members' code of conduct.
On March 18, Macpherson responded in writing to Trumper and Wang's complaints.
He asked the mayor to handle the complaints informally, separately and "without prejudice".
In response to Trumper's complaint, he said it was not clear what misinformation was provided and there was no evidence he had called anyone's integrity into question.
Macpherson said what was most concerning, in his opinion, was what he believed was "Mrs Trumper's angry intolerance of others' opinions where they differ from hers".
In response to Wang's complaint, Macpherson said it had been his "probably incorrect assumption" at the time of posting the council was "at least party to bussing", and he had removed the post and replaced it with another on March 11.
He said it "cannot qualify as a lie because it was my honestly-held belief at the time and did not intend to deceive".
Trumper and Wang asked that what they both called Macpherson's "unsolicited" response to their complaints be included as part of their complaints and alleged he was not following the correct process.
On April 1, Chadwick met with Williams, Macpherson and his support person councillor Peter Bentley.
The mayor wrote to Macpherson on April 13 and said rather than dealing with the issues informally, a "more structured approach is appropriate" and the Audit and Risk Committee would advise him of the next steps.
Macpherson has written to the Ombudsman again saying he wanted to delay consideration of Williams' complaint until the Ombudsman had made a ruling on his concerns.
He said in his opinion Wang's complaint was "trivial or vexatious" and Wang was a "loyal supporter" and mentee of Chadwick. In his view, Trumper's alleged "presumption" of his guilt reflected her "close political affiliation with the mayor [and Trumper's] implacable hatred of me".
An Ombudsman's Office spokeswoman confirmed receipt of Macpherson's correspondence but could not provide any further information because of a legal requirement for confidentiality.
On Thursday, Local Democracy Reporting asked Chadwick why she didn't wait for an Ombudsman's ruling before progressing the complaints and whether she believed she was compromised in the facilitator role for Williams' complaint. Macpherson's comments about her in his complaint response were also put to her.
Chadwick said it would not be appropriate for her to comment on the code of conduct complaints as they were before the Audit and Risk Committee.
"However, I can say that I am becoming increasingly concerned about the behaviour of councillors who blatantly ignore the code all elected members agreed to and disregard their duty of care and commitment as elected members.
"There have been a number of code of conduct complaints in the past few years relating to councillor behaviour and while dealing with these is time-consuming, we have to undertake a thorough process because they are serious matters."
She said the code set out how elected members would behave, and one of those things was to treat staff with courtesy and respect and to not be misleading.
March 2: Wastewater leak near Ngongotahā.
March 3: Reynold Macpherson posts to Facebook regarding the leak.
March 4: Steve Chadwick demands apology for the post, Dave Donaldson alleges it's "misleading" and chair Tania Tapsell claims it's "a lie" at a council committee meeting.
March 5: Chief executive Geoff Williams emails the mayor to complain about the post.
March 9: Macpherson provides a preliminary response to Williams' complaint
March 10: Macpherson posts to Facebook about homeless people being bussed into the city.
March 11: Fisher Wang raises the March 10 post as an issue in a council committee meeting. Macpherson deletes it and replaces it.
March 14: Rural Community Board chairwoman Shirley Trumper complains about Macpherson's comments on a March 13 Facebook post about outsourcing and the Trility contract.
March 18: Macpherson responds directly to Trumper and Wang's complaints, sending each to the mayor and copying in the relevant complainant.
March 22: Wang complains about Macpherson's direct response to his complaint. Macpherson emails chief ombudsman Peter Boshier requesting the Ombudsman's Office investigate the "standing" of the chief executive's code of conduct complaint and "predetermination" issues.
April 1: Macpherson, Chadwick and Williams meet to discuss the complaints, with a view to arranging an informal resolution. Councillor Peter Bentley also attends.
April 13: Chadwick advises Macpherson an informal resolution could not be reached and the complaints would be progressed formally.
April 14: Williams formalises his complaint against Macpherson.
April 15: Wang and Trumper formalise their complaints against Macpherson.