Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell (image via Facebook)

The Bulletin: Tauranga’s ‘combative’ mayor on ropes after texts revealed

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Tauranga’s “combative” mayor on ropes after texts revealed, former firefighters reveal multiple sexual assault and harassment complaints, and new report details serious climate risks to NZ.

Tauranga’s mayor is embroiled in some chaotic infighting around the Council table, and it could get uglier now that it has gone public. The situation for recently elected mayor Tenby Powell is that a series of “profanity-laced” texts to fellow councillors have been released, which were sent in June amid other councillors trying to oust his then-deputy Larry Baldock. Both Stuff’s Matt Shand and the BOP Times’ Samantha Motion filed requests to get the communications, which also showed that Powell considered resigning as well. As Powell saw it, he believed he had “lost the community” and that his family was starting to get abusive and threatening messages sent to them.

The BOP Times story in particular goes into great detail about the feud at the heart of it all, between Powell and mayoral candidate Kelvin Clout. Befitting the latter’s name, Clout is seen as a fairly influential figure, and has previously been deputy mayor. The timeline suggests they had a showdown, including after alleged comments from Clout that he intended to “run Powell and his wife out of town” – he heavily disputes that he said that, or intended such a course of action. In return, the messages show Powell clearly doesn’t rate Clout – even after the pair held a meeting to work out how to reconcile their differences, Powell was still texting Baldock about how Clout was a “spineless coward.” Both are now publicly saying that they wish to move on from the incident, and won’t be holding grudges over it.

Who exactly is Tenby Powell, and what is his style? He’s a former army man, who then went out and made a lot of money in business. Formerly unsuccessfully active in Auckland local politics, Powell was described by NZ Herald gossip columnist Rachel Glucina as “combative” in 2010 – the description seems apt. As Tauranga’s mayor, a few weeks ago he simply walked out of an angry Papamoa meeting over rates rises, saying the atmosphere had become “abusive and threatening”. Powell was also the subject of a recent official complaint, after describing a fellow councillor as a “f****** climate-denying racist” in front of other councillors and staff. Onlookers described his anger as appearing to be out of control, and compared him to a volcano. On the substance of the comments, he was making them about a councillor who suggested last year that the Treaty of Waitangi should be burned, so you can make up your own mind about whether he had at least something of a point.

But of course, Tauranga itself has much bigger issues right now than battles between individual elected officials. In June, Stuff reports Powell described the Council as “insolvent” – or at least it would be if it was a company. For years the city has been in a heavily indebted position, and Covid-19 has hammered Tauranga particularly hard, in part because of a collapse in parking and airport revenue. For the people of Tauranga, the big question will be whether they need someone unafraid to call a spade a spade to dig them out of the hole.


An exciting development for The Spinoff: We’ve now got merch for sale! You can check out everything we’ve got on offer here, but among other things we’ve got tea towels, pens, coffee cups, and T-shirts for sale. You can also buy copies of The Spinoff Book, which we released at the end of last year, featuring dozens of the best pieces of writing to appear on the site over our first five years.


Former firefighters have said they were sexually assaulted by colleagues while working at Fire and Emergency, reports Imogen Wells for One News. What the story outlines isn’t just the assault itself, but an allegation that it simply wasn’t adequately followed up on by management or police. In the aftermath of that story, several others emerged – for example, Stuff reports that 24 sexual harassment complaints have been made at the organisation over the last five years. Calls are now being made for some form of independent organisation to handle complaints, with the existing culture of FENZ being seen as not up to the job.


A new report called the National Climate Change Risk Assessment has been released, outlining how climate change will affect New Zealand. I’ve covered the report here, and I think the most salient point that comes out is that the risks don’t just begin and end with changing weather patterns. What matters much more is the risk of flow-on effects from those changes, which are largely economic and social, and will put immense pressure on, well, everything.


The PM delivered her last scheduled post-cabinet press conference of the term yesterday afternoon, addressing some regular and some new topics. Our live updates page had details of both – among the former, there was a reiteration of the need for those offered Covid-19 tests to take them, along with a reminder that a timeframe for quarantine-free international travel still didn’t exist. With the election campaign starting imminently, parliament won’t actually be in session – over that period, cabinet will continue to meet fortnightly, and the health ministry will continue to release daily case updates.


A big mass of data will be coming out tomorrow, which will give a much better picture of where unemployment is sitting right now. However, as Liam Dann writes in the NZ Herald, (paywalled) the top line figures will tell us less than they normally would, and it will be necessary to drill down deeper to get a true picture of how people in the workforce are faring. One element of that will be under-employment, or in other words whether people who are keen to work are getting the hours they need.


An opinion piece that makes a point about infrastructure I had literally never considered before: Writing on Stuff, chief executive of the Aggregate & Quarry Association Wayne Scott argues that holdups in major road building plans and other projects are almost inevitably going to stall, because not enough has been done to prepare quarries to provide the raw materials for construction. He argues that successive governments have failed to plan for this, and cites the delays and cost blowouts of Transmission Gully as an example of what happens as a result.


To announce one of The Spinoff’s exciting election coverage projects, I might well be coming to a town near you soon. I’ll be taking The Bulletin on the road over the next five weeks, going to events outside the main centres, meeting some of the politicians you hear a bit less from, and generally just asking people what they reckon about stuff. It’s all made possible thanks to a Cabana van from Jucy, and some generous support from Z Energy as well. I want to know from you where I should go – I especially love election debates so if your town has got any coming up I should head to, email thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz and I’ll try make it along.


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

The many hats of George R.R. Martin.

Right now on The Spinoff: Michael Pulman writes about the disabled community needing to stop making excuses for politicians who don’t listen to them directly. Shaun Robinson asks if whoever is elected as the next government will put a genuine plan to address mental health into action. Madeleine Chapman returns with a new edition of Memebers of Parliament. K-Ci Williams writes about the TV show K-Pop Academy, about kids trying to break into what is arguably the biggest musical genre on the planet. Sam Brooks reviews the “shambling, strange mess” of George RR Martin’s hosting of the ceremony for the prestigious Hugo Awards. And we’re very excited to announce that Alice Snedden is returning with a brand new season of Bad News, with the first episode premiering next week.


For a feature today, a look at one of the aspects of the pandemic that worries me the most – the loss of social cohesion that could accompany a second wave. The Monthly’s excellent daily newsletter (called The Monthly Today) has looked at this phenomenon in Australia, where there has been a breakdown of solidarity between people and states, among a wider discussion of where that country is heading right now. Here’s an excerpt:

Scott Morrison, at the risk of sounding like the prime minister for NSW, talks about the “Victorian wave” of cases and has sided with mining mogul Clive Palmer in his legal challenge against WA’s border closure, saying Palmer will likely win in the High Court. Queensland picks a fight with NSW by declaring the whole of Sydney a COVID hotspot, while communities straddling Victoria’s borders with NSW and South Australia are in a diabolical situation.

In NSW, Labor attacks the Coalition over the Ruby Princess debacle, with fresh claims on the ABC last night that a mistake by the Australian Border Force was at least partly responsible for sick passengers being allowed off the stricken ship. In Victoria, the Coalition attacks Labor over the failure, months back, to take up the offer of Defence personnel assistance with hotel quarantine. And The Courier-Mail decides to brand two young women as “enemies of the state”, vilifying them for an outbreak that has yet to occur, resulting in the pair being placed under police protection.


Stop the presses, the Pulse have finally lost a game of netball. Radio NZ reports they were beaten 44-42 by the Northern Mystics on Sunday night, with shooter Grace Nweke leading a dramatic final quarter comeback to seal the win. The team is of course still well ahead of the chasing pack, with only four games to go before the finals. The format for those is more of a finals day than a playoffs series, and at this stage it’s looking like the Mainland Tactix will be the other team to make the cut.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme




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