Four Napier City councillors whose Facebook posts were trawled through by senior council staff looking for code of conduct breaches are considering making a formal complaint against the chief executive.
Emails obtained by RNZ show Napier City Council chief executive Wayne Jack asked staff to go through the Facebook posts of councillors who opposed a new pool project in a bid to find potential code of conduct breaches.
It comes as the Minister Of Local Government has sent a subtle warning to the council that its staff must act in a politically neutral way.
Councillors Kirsten Wise, Api Tapine, Richard McGrath and Maxine Boag said Mr Jack's actions were inappropriate.
Mayoral candidate Kirsten Wise said they had discussed making a formal complaint about his behaviour.
"We will be meeting with the acting mayor on her return next week and certainly I will be looking to make a decision around whether a formal complaint will be laid after having a conversation with her and the acting CEO."
Ms Wise said it was also time for the code of conduct to be reviewed.
"Over the past six months all councillors have been 'reminded' on numerous occasions that we must abide by the Code of Conduct, particularly in relation to talking to the media. I have been very vocal about what I see as a lack of transparency and accountability within our council and the Code of Conduct is being used to perpetuate this culture.
"NCC is one of only a handful of councils in the country which forbids councillors from sharing negative opinion publicly and in my opinion this is being used by the CEO to shut down councillors who voice dissenting opinions. It is imperative that an urgent review of the Code of Conduct is undertaken by the incoming Council," Ms Wise said.
Local governance expert Andy Asquith from Massey University's School of Management called Mr Jack's actions "undemocratic" and he called for the minister to step in.
"Clearly there is a certain element of disfunction in Napier. It's not behaviour that's just a one-off and the chief executive seems to me on evidence we have available to be starting to interfere in the political process," he said.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said it was an operational matter Napier City Council had to deal with and it would not be appropriate for her or the Department of Internal Affairs to get involved.
"The minister notes that all public servants, including council staff, are bound by a responsibility to act in a politically neutral way that does not inhibit democratic debate," she added.
Councillor Maxine Boag has written to Napier City Council acting chief executive Adele Henderson asking for an apology.
It is understood Mrs Henderson has offered to meet affected councillors next week to discuss the issue with acting mayor Faye White.
Mr Jack is currently on holiday and unable to respond to questions from RNZ. In an email to councillors yesterday with the subject line "Nothing sells newspapers like good headlines" Mrs Henderson denied any wrongdoing on the council's part.
"I am aware that there has been some media contact so wanted to clarify a few points with you. We do not actively monitor Facebook pages. All councillors are treated equally, however, some councillors are more active on social media than others. We only review posts where there have been concerns raised and these may have been made by other councillors, or members of the community."
The emails showed in one case it was Mrs Henderson who alerted Mr Jack to posts she believed may have breached the councillors' code of conduct.