Auckland mayor Wayne Brown is under fire for calling journalists "drongos", blaming them for having to cancel a round of tennis with friends on Sunday as the city dealt with the aftermath of record rainfall and flooding that left four dead.
It comes after widespread criticism of his handling of the disaster, including being slow to declare a state of emergency on Friday night and a combative, testy media conference on Saturday.
A producer for MediaWorks news station Today FM on Saturday said Brown turned down an interview on Friday morning because he wanted to play tennis instead. WhatsApp messages leaked to the New Zealand Herald showed rain got in the way, with Brown telling friends on Saturday morning it was "pissing down so no tennis". Despite being freed up, the interview did not go ahead.
And on Saturday night, Brown told the WhatsApp group - known as 'The Grumpy Old Men' - he couldn't play on Sunday either because "I've got to deal with media drongos over the flooding".
Brown asked the Herald not to write a story about the messages, calling them a "private conversation aimed at giving a reason to miss tennis".
"There is no need to exacerbate a situation which is not about me but about getting things right for the public and especially those in need and in danger."
Brown has given few interviews with media since being elected mayor last year, turning down all but two of 108 requests in his first month in office.
He also turned down Morning Report's request to appear on the show on Tuesday morning. His deputy, Desley Simpson, did call in - saying she was "happy to talk to you at any time".
"My understanding is the mayor is on the ground, and has been over the weekend," she said, not directly addressing criticism he wasn't communicating effectively.
"I think as his deputy I am more than happy to do that role. I'm talking to you now, I'll talk to you at any time. That's my commitment to you and to Auckland."
Asked if it was acceptable to call journalists "drongos", Simpson again avoided the question.
"Media play an important part, in my opinion, in helping get our message out. I really appreciate talking to you this morning so that we can inform Aucklanders what they need to do to be prepared for the storm…
"My focus, and I think all local boards and other councillors - and the mayor -our focus is making sure that Auckland is prepared for this afternoon and this evening. It's going to be a rough 24 hours, and I really appreciate you helping us get this message out."
She then said she had not seen Brown's texts, she had been busy "getting myself ready this morning with emergency services and stuff for this afternoon".
The region north of Orewa is under an unprecedented 'red' rain warning, while the rest of the city to the south is at orange.