Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell resigns

5:29 pm on 20 November 2020

Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell has resigned effective immediately and urged central government to appoint commissioners, criticising some councillors for stymying progress.

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Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell Photo: Supplied

The resignation happened after an extraordinary council meeting today, in which the troubled city council voted to bring in a Crown manager after an independent report found numerous governance issues.

The appointment of a Crown manager was not enough, Powell said, and he had written to Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta to advise the appointment of commissioners.

It comes after in-fighting among members, who it emerged had been name calling over text messages, earlier this year.

Powell said when resigning that he had not run to be mayor as a career move, and had been clear he only planned to serve two terms, but to break the stranglehold that successive councillors had on a lack of progress.

"Tauranga city has an historical legacy of councils which are essentially visionless old men's clubs. Over the years those few councillors who have fought for positive and progressive change ... have been chewed up and spat out.

"If we are constantly around small thinkers who live in shallow siloes and operate constantly in a mode of self-protection or even self interest, the role of leading a city in desperate need of progressive thinking will inevitably be demanding and challenging. In my experience it has been soul destroying."

Mahuta said she would inform the Cabinet of her intentions and would receive advice from her officials on Thursday as to whether the threshold for Crown intervention had been met.

She was considering options including appointing a Crown observer, manager or commissioner, she said.

She said she expected to make a decision soon.

"I don't think it'll take too long," she said. "These issues ahve been pervading the council for a while now and it's come to a head."

Powell said six of the councillors had not had the courage to stand up and lead Tauranga strategically into the future.

He is also due to undergo prostate cancer treatment shortly, but he said his decision to resign was not about his cancer, and it was his sincere hope his resignation would lead to change for the better for the council.

Tauranga was New Zealand's fifth-largest city and fastest growing city and was in a dire position on infrastructure, housing and social amenity, he said, but he could not see it buying into its commitments to buy into smart growth and 30-year transport plan, including funding mechanisms.

He said he was sad for the progressive councillors he held in the highest regard, but he was most sad for the city of Tauranga.

"Abraham Lincoln wrote 'give me six hours to chop down a tree and I'll spend the first four sharpening the axe'. These words seem particularly germaine to me given my background in both leading and training top-performing teams in both business and the military ... people who have the moral courage to make great things happen and do the right thing.

"It is also germaine in an ironic sense that this council spent an extraordinary amount of time discussing the future of 10 magnolia trees, which seemingly illustrates the decision making comfort level of a quorum of Tauranga's current city councillors."

"The report in which the summary amonst other things says Tauranga city council does not have the strategic ability to deliver the long term plan required to address Tauranga's current and future needs ... is something that I wholeheartedly agree with."

Tauranga City Council chief executive Marty Grenfell said the mayor had cited several reasons for his decision.

Grenfell said the mayor expressed hope the manager would facilitate the best possible outcomes for the city.

The council executive team wished him well, and said they were heartened by his expression of support and confidence in them.

Councillor Heidi Hughes said some of her fellow elected members had a "staggering" lack of self awareness which made for a difficult work environment.

However, she thought the council could sort out its issues without commissioners intervening.

"I really hope that we don't bring commissioners in, I think that we could with support get things back on the road and have some successful outcomes."

Watch Tenby Powell's surprise resignation speech: