A Rotorua Lakes Council deputy chief executive has made a code of conduct complaint against a councillor over a social media post on housing he says was "false or, at worst, lies".
It's one of the latest complaints of a total of 12 Reynold Macpherson has faced since he was elected to the council in 2019.
Macpherson says the complaints are "vexatious" and "part of a wider campaign of choking criticism to retain power".
District development deputy chief executive Jean-Paul Gaston made the complaint against Macpherson in a letter to chief executive Geoff Williams on November 8.
Documents obtained by Local Democracy Reporting show Gaston said he was concerned about the social media post and that it would impact the reputation of council staff and the relationships the council had with partner organisations and the central government.
"[Macpherson] makes a number of statements that suggest inappropriate action by council staff and other agencies operating in our community.
"These statements are false, or at worst, lies."
The post, written by Macpherson, was titled "council deeply implicated in dramatic expansion of emergency housing in Rotorua" and Gaston indicated comments in it that he believed were false.
They included claims that the council had been "centrally involved in repatriating families from around New Zealand" and that council denials of being involved in "bussing" the homeless from out of town into the city were "disingenuous hair-splitting".
The rumour of people being "bussed" in from out of town to Rotorua's emergency housing has been strenuously denied by the Ministry of Social Development several times.
Gaston took aim at other claims in Macpherson's social media post that he believed were "false".
They included that, in Macpherson's words, the housing taskforce's proposed housing hub had "all the functions of a refugee reception and processing centre" and elected members on the council were "only told fragments about this experiment while the mayor's power bloc, including some senior officials, were fully implicated".
Gaston said the council had received regular updates on the work of the housing taskforce, a joint effort between the council, central government agencies and iwi.
Gaston claimed: "The councillor's posts do not align to the actual information and presentations he has received."
Williams forwarded Gaston's concerns to Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick the same day, with a memorandum where he said he shared concerns about the post, labelling information in it "false and highly misleading" and undermining to the council's reputation to the public and to potential partners.
Chadwick then referred the complaint to the council's Audit and Risk Committee, which processes code of conduct complaints. The complaint would be added to two others, she said.
Those two other complaints were from Rural Community Board chairwoman Shirley Trumper and local businessman Justin Adams, regarding another social media post of Macpherson's.
The post made a number of accusations, such as that submitters on the council's 2021 representation review were "ignored" and "dismissed" and divulged details of an otherwise confidential elected members' workshop.
Trumper's email to district leadership and democracy deputy chief executive Oonagh Hopkins, which Local Democracy Reporting has seen, explicitly asked if Macpherson's "latest tirade" was a breach of the code of conduct.
Adams' email asked Williams and Chadwick to implement independent oversight to the representation review deliberations and order an independent review of elected members, but did not invoke the code of conduct.
Williams collated Trumper's and Adams' emails as code of conduct complaints, and on October 29 referred them to Chadwick and Hopkins in a memo.
In this memo he highlighted alleged conduct by Macpherson that, in his view, amounted to Macpherson revealing "explicit details" of the confidential workshop, attempting to influence people's views on the representation review and implying officials were "working in an unsavoury way".
"Adams, who has read [Macpherson's] commentary, feels a review of the actions of officers and councillors is required to regain trust," Williams wrote.
"While these incidents are recent, they are not the first time Councillor Macpherson has been complained about by members of the public or fellow elected members for the way he discloses confidential information in social media."
He asked the emails and memo be considered in an ongoing Audit and Risk Committee process, relating to code of conduct complaints from April.
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting, Macpherson said he regarded the complaints as "vexatious" and in his opinion they appeared to be "orchestrated, intended to suppress normal political discourse".
He said the complaints confused the role of the mayor in the complaints process to that of a whip of a political party.
The code of conduct complaints process was, in his opinion, "part of a wider campaign of choking criticism to retain power".
He said examples of this were his "speaking rights" in the representation review hearings being "cancelled" and that discussions regarding the Springfield golf course and Westbrook Sport and Recreation Precinct had been deferred despite a vote to the contrary.
He also repeated claims of a council "gerrymander" regarding the representation review to "double the voting power of those on the Māori roll".
Macpherson claimed those examples "add up to an entitled ruling elite using dirty politics and the code of conduct to silence those who are opposed to them remaining in power."
Council district leadership and democracy deputy chief executive Oonagh Hopkins said the five current complaints against Macpherson were still under process and it would be "inappropriate" to comment on them.
"Details will be made public at the appropriate time".
She said time and cost impacts from code of conduct complaints were "dependent on the number and complexity" of complaints and whether they were resolved informally or needed to be referred to the Audit and Risk Committee.
She said there were no other code of conduct complaints against any other elected members.
The council was also asked if it had received legal advice regarding the latest three complaints against Macpherson.
Chadwick was approached for comment but a council communications staff member said she would not comment as the matters were still before the Audit and Risk Committee.
In 2020, he was found to have breached the code of conduct relating to five complaints and was asked to apologise to complainants. As he did not, Chadwick apologised on his behalf.
Costs associated with that tranche of complaints cost ratepayers almost $60,000 - about $40,000 of which came from legal fees.