Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick has demanded an apology from a councillor over a social media post.
But the councillor at the centre of the controversy, Reynold Macpherson, says he's just expressing his opinion, and others are expressing theirs.
About four minutes into the Rotorua Lakes Council's operations and monitoring committee meeting on Thursday, deputy mayor Dave Donaldson indicated he had an urgent item of business for the committee to attend to.
"Yesterday all councillors received an email from Rotorua Lakes Council regarding a break in our wastewater main that had been addressed in the Ngongotahā area.''
Donaldson told the committee he had been made aware of what, in his opinion, were some misleading statements made on social media by a councillor that were contrary to the content of that email.
Donaldson said he would ask infrastructure manager Stavros Michael to "provide clarity around the actual circumstances, the reasons behind that break and how it was remedied".
On Wednesday, the council warned the public not to swim in Lake Rotorua after a wastewater leak near the Parawai Rd pump station on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday evening, councillor Reynold Macpherson - who is also chairman of lobby group Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers - published a social media post on the topic.
In the meeting on Thursday, Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick made her opinion clear: "I've looked at the allegation made on the website and it is factually incorrect and I wish to serve notice here that I demand an apology and a retraction of that statement on the Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers website and will consider further action.
"I wanted that upfront."
Councillor Tania Tapsell, chairing the meeting, said Macpherson was not present in the meeting so she was not comfortable as he could not speak in his own defence.
Tapsell said, in her opinion: "However, given the misleading information, I think it is worthwhile putting it down as an urgent item."
She then asked Donaldson to expand on what he believed was the specific problem with the post.
Donaldson said the email from the council to councillors stated the break was the result of "inadvertent action, possibly by a contractor, which caused the wastewater main to deteriorate over time".
"However, the words used on social media are that the pipe broke because our council has not invested enough in maintenance," he said.
"I would like that clarified because I am aware of significant investment in maintenance and adherence to maintenance plans."
Tapsell said, in her opinion, the allegation was "quite frankly, a lie".
"I am very disappointed that has been claimed, that's certainly not the truth."
She said she would give Michael "the opportunity to correct that for the public record".
"At some stage, I would also like to allow Councillor Macpherson the opportunity to explain why he chose to make such … information [available] and also allow him the opportunity to apologise and withdraw for that."
Macpherson's post was still live when viewed by this reporter late on Thursday afternoon.
Posted about 6pm on Wednesday, it stated sewage had escaped into Lake Rotorua when a pipe broke.
"The pipe broke because our council has not invested enough in maintenance.
"Why not? The council switched many tens of millions of ratepayers money into two iwi Partnerships - the Lakefront Redevelopment and Whaka Forest Hub 2 - and into two grandiose redevelopment projects - instead of simply restoring the museum and the Rotorua performing arts centre to business operational levels.
"The council has converted our taonga into a toilet by running down infrastructure, ignoring multiple warnings by Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers councillors."
He concluded that, in his opinion, a "fundamental shift" in council leadership and priorities was needed.
"Bring back democracy and common sense planning and budgeting."
On Thursday, Macpherson responded that he had not been able to attend the meeting because he was supporting a family member undergoing a medical procedure.
"The official reason the deputy mayor gave for the break, that 'inadvertent action, possibly by a contractor, which caused the wastewater main to deteriorate over time', is his opinion," he said.
"My opinion is that the leak is a result of inadequate investment into core infrastructure over decades, and, more recently, because ratepayers' money has been invested in iwi partnerships, grandiose redevelopments and vanity projects. Others will have other opinions.
"I have therefore edited the RDRR Facebook entry to indicate this legitimate divergence in opinion.
"I have made no comment concerning the professionalism of officials."
He said he would not apologise.
In the meeting, Donaldson later reiterated his point so that infrastructure manager Stavros Michael could respond to his request for clarification.
Councillor Raj Kumar, a member of Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers, raised a point of order, saying the discussion was taking place without Macpherson present, was taking up "valuable council time" and could be deferred.
Tapsell interrupted Kumar to say it was not a point of order and she would allow the discussion to continue.
Michael told the meeting Macpherson's statement was "incorrect".
"The incident that occurred … resulted, to the best of our knowledge in this point in time, from what appears to be an unintentional hit on the pipe by the installation of a private stormwater pipe."
He said there were no signs in the pipe of general deterioration of condition.
He said there were often regular repairs across the vast network.
"The connotation that we are not investing … is incorrect in my opinion."
Chadwick said there were two members of the Rotorua Residents and Ratepayers group present - Kumar and councillor Peter Bentley - and "one of them should advise the chair of that organisation to please take down that post".
She wanted councillors to see the entire post in the minutes of the meeting.
"Also we should ask the chief executive [Geoff Williams] what is our next line of action. For me, I think it's a formal complaint about the administrator of the website …"
She also asked council strategy manager Jean-Paul Gaston what the "material impact" was on the reputation of the council's network.
"This is quite scurrilous in my view, and I'm not letting it get away because Councillor Macpherson's not at the meeting,'' Chadwick told the meeting.
"Rather than naming names I think we've got some very big issues to deal with as elected members to make sure, one, we seek the truth before we do any posting of information, and we protect council officers."
Tapsell said "given the seriousness" she would ask the chief executive Williams to comment.
Williams said it was important the council and councillors gave factual information to the public.
"It's therefore very disappointing that the comments that have been made in this Facebook page are neither factual nor accurate."
He said, in his view, it undermined the reputation of staff and the council.
"From an individual staff point of view, it is actually extremely frustrating. You don't hear this from staff, but our people work extremely hard," he said.
Tapsell said it was disappointing Macpherson was not present but said she agreed an apology was in order.
"So as the chair I would like to apologise on his behalf, for any offence that that post might have brought forward."
She said, in her view, Macpherson "should know better".
She said an allegation made by Macpherson that money had been "switched" between projects was "not something that has happened".
The meeting on Thursday received financial updates from the council and the three council-controlled organisations, Rotorua Economic Development, Infracore and Rotorua Airport.
Covering the period to the end of December 2020, the meeting agenda stated the airport was experiencing a $4.3m deficit, Rotorua Economic Development a more than $107,000 deficit, and Infracore a $512,000 surplus.
In August 2020 the council approved a $750,000 capital injection in Infracore.
Council chief financial officer Thomas Colle spoke to the meeting on the council's financial performance, reporting the organisation was tracking "about half a million dollars better than budget".
He said that was on the back of "strong revenues", in particular from rates and funds from other organisations such as Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency.
"Full year, not too much worrying us at the moment on the horizon, with regards to where our operating expenditure sits and our revenues. We expect to end the year on track."