Tauranga mayor’s shock resignation: Tenby Powell calls for Government to step in

Tauranga City Council mayor Tenby Powell has resigned after the council voted to bring in a Crown manager after ongoing conflict and dysfunction among elected members.

Powell resigned in a speech to a public meeting today and called for commissioners to replace the council.

The announcement was immediately met with booming claps from councillor John Robson.

“I will not stand and review a team report, I have asked the Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta to consider the appointment of commissioners,” Powell said over the claps.

“Tauranga’s future as a city, of strategic importance to New Zealand cannot be left to a small group of petty politicians who have a long track record of hindering, or even worse, stopping progress.

“I hope history will show that November 2020, the DNA of incompetence among TCC elected members was recognised and cauterized and after a period of crown management a governance team can be rebuilt with real leaders.”

In closing, Powell took the opportunity to thank his colleagues particularly deputy mayor Tina Sailsbury and councillors Heidi Hughes and Larry Baldock.

“I also want to convey our thanks to the community for the overwhelming support, Sharon and I have had,” Powell said with a quavering voice.

“We are inundated with cards, emails and messages of goodwill and we are truly humbled by that.”

Powell made one thing clear before he stopped speaking: “My decision to resign is not about my cancer.”

At the beginning of the month, the mayor announced he would be taking medical leave at the end of November to receive treatment and recover from prostate cancer.

“Until last Tuesday’s meeting I had every intention of returning to my place of serving the city for the remainder of the current term, however, I have come to the conclusion it will only perpetuate the status quo.

“It is my severe hope that my resignation will facilitate the government’s intervention and I believe it is required for the future good of Tauranga Moana.

“It has been a privilege to serve you all and the city. Kia ora.”

Outside the council chamber, Powell said in hindsight he should have slowed things down.

“I came in with a business attitude, I wanted to get things done but local government operates at a glacial level.”

However, he did not think the outcomes would have necessarily have been any different “and I don’t believe the relationships would necessarily have changed”.

He said there had been heavy resistance towards him during the election campaign and some of those who opposed him were now sitting around the council table.

“It wasn’t the normal level of resistance, as many people said to me at the time.
“There was hatred at the outset and that has been tough to deal with, to be honest.

He described the relationships on council as incredibly fractious.

“Yet, we have made real decisions. We have moved things forward at pace.”

He highlighted the attraction of $900m in Government investment in the area as a major achievement.

The council has also improved relations with central government “from a zero base”which would stand the city in good steadfor the future, he said.

“Of course part of that is developing relationships with iwi who, as I said today, are critically important to take this city forward.

“We need them not only as a Treaty partner but we need them as our partner in the city that we live in.

“Iwi are represented, soon it will be about 20 per cent of the population, and yet they don’t have the right voice on issues that are critical to the city- to all of us.”

Prior to announcing his resignation, he highlighted the serious issues facing the city.

Tauranga was one of New Zealand’s fifth-largest and fastest-growing city but was in a dire position in terms of infrastructure, housing and social ammenity,” Powell said.

“If we are constantly around small thinkers, who live in shallow silos and operate constantly in a mode of self-protection, or even self-interest, the role of leading a city … would inevitably be demanding and challenging.

“In my experience, it has been soul-destroying.

“Tuesday’s council meeting, where six councillors voted to leave the review and observancey report on the table, brings into sharp relief the inability of this council to govern the city appropriately and meet its strategic needs.

“Ladies and gentleman, we need to invest $4.3 billion in infrastructure over the next 10 years, and while there is recognition amongst this council that we can’t pay for half that sum, six of your councillors do not have the moral courage to stand up and say ‘let’s change the way we behave and change the course of history. Let’s lead Tauranga strategically to the future,'” he said.

“In the words of motivational speaker Jim Rohn, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The people you spend the most time with, shape you. They determine what conversations dominate your attention, and unless you are strong and resilient, eventually, you will start to think and behave like them.”

He added: “It’s called groupthink, and it’s very, very dangerous.”

EARLIER:

His resignation came after a councillor issued a tearful condemnation of a fellow member.

Councillor Heidi Hughes said she wanted to respond to comments made about Councillor Andrew Hollis by members of the public earlier in the meeting.

“I apologise for not speaking out earlier. I have not spoken out because if I am honest it is because I am not willing to attract the kind of dark vitriol into my world from the community that supports his ideology,” Hughes said, her voice choking up.

“I hereby lift my silence and publicly condemn the blatant rejection of the Treaty of Waitangi and the ongoing destructive commentary of this councillor on social media.”

While she struggled to be on a team with someone with his views, she said she could continue to try and work with “whoever democracy throws me together with”.

Hollis said he would have appreciated having the conversation with Hughes prior to the meeting.

The elected members are discussing how to respond to a scathing independent report that recommended they seek help from the Government.

The report, which was presented to council earlier this week, refers to the elected members’ internal turmoil effectively preventing the council from governing appropriately.

The report was produced by a three-strong Review and Observation Team, chaired by Peter Winder. The team was brought on board on September 2 to observe the interactions of and between elected members following increased tension and conflict earlier this year.

The report listed several concerns such as allegations of “score-settling and a reported eruption where elected members suggested settling their differences outside of the council chamber by means of physical violence”.

The report also referred to a “significant number of Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act requests originating from elected members, or in one instance from a lawyer acting for an elected member”.

“Some requests seem to be designed to identify ways to undermine people or relationships, rather than to address the business of council.”

The team, through the report, recommended the council request help from the Minister of Local Government by asking that a Crown manager and observer be appointed.

Winder addressed elected members this morning to answer questions before elected members vote on whether to accept the recommendation or attempt to work through their own issues, which was not recommended.

Councillor Dawn Kiddie asked Winder if the potential Crown manager would have the power to override any decisions made by elected members.

He replied they would.

Councillor Steve Morris questioned whether Winder would rule himself out from the potential Crown manager role.

Winder said he had not considered taking the role and doubted he intended to but did not rule it out.

Mayor Tenby Powell said the behaviour of some elected members on Tuesday exemplified the very issues highlighted in the report.

“The three members of the Review and Observer Team … it was humiliating for them to be questioned in a way that reflected that report in just about every regard. It was off-topic, full of minutiae, unrelated detail.”

“They were accused personally of errors.

“It was mortifying. It highlights in every regard this council in my view has really alimited, at best, ability to develop the necessary Long Term Plan required for a city of Tauranga’s size and complexity.

“While I support it [recommendation], I believe we need commissioners in Tauranga city,” Powell said.

Councillor Steve Morris said the Local Government Minister had the opportunity to call for a general election.

“Unfortunately, I think that would lack support around the table and I think, actually, lack the support of the Minister to do so but it comes from the principle of, I think the people should decide who runs Tauranga, not the Beehive and so I prefer a general election to commissioners.

He said the product had not met the packaging in terms of what had been promised during the election and what has been delivered.

“The packaging promised something collectively – the product is somewhat different and so the community are entitled to a replacement, and it should be their decision.”

Councillor Andrew Hollis said accepting the recommendation was not the only solution for those elected members who were considering supporting it. There was the option to resign also, he said.

Hollis said voting in support of the recommendation was a “weak and cowardly decision and unlikely to solve the so-called problem”.

“Bad behaviour is no reason to be babysat by the Government.”

Councillor Bill Grainger said the decision was one of the hardest he’s had to make and he’d been awake late last night still trying to decide “which way to lean”.

“I’ve had people ring me and say ‘I voted for you, not a manager’. I feel I am betraying those votes to get a manager in. My decision is hard, as hard as it is, I will support having a Crown manager.”

The meeting continues.

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