Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell on his resignation: ‘I’m more sad than anything else’

Hours after Tenby Powell delivered his shock resignation from the role at Tauranga mayor, he was preparing to hit the gym.

Powell spoke to the Bay of Plenty Times as a continuous run of phone calls and texts lit up his phone. Most of them were positive and supportive, he said.

Powell stepped down from the role in a hope the move will prompt action from Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta to bring in commissioners to take over Tauranga City Council, which has been plagued by conflict and behavioural issues for most of the year.

Powell expressed his deep disappointment about the situation in his speech, delivered at an extraordinary council meeting on Friday.

“I’m more sad than anything else,” he said outside of chambers.

At the beginning of the month, Powell announced he would take medical leave at the end of November to receive treatment and recover from prostate cancer. Deputy mayor Tina Salisbury was to become acting mayor in his absence but this now hangs on whether Mahuta brings in commissioners.

Powell plans to focus on family and health. He’s not going anywhere either, confirming he and wife Sharon Hunter will stay in Tauranga.

“I’m looking forward to engaging it because I love it here, it’s my hometown, but I haven’t enjoyed it. I haven’t had time to. Every time someone says ‘let’s go fishing’ or anything like that I haven’t been able to because there’s been no time.

“I had been doing 12-hour days, they’ve often been 14-hour days.”

Powell said he did not mind the workload because he felt there was a greater good of moving the city forward.

Powell said his mother was relieved with his resignation.

“She and Sharon, they’ve seen it unfold day by day. It has been like walking through a swamp with a heavy pack.”

Powell said that in his view, “There’s the odd light occasion but every single day, the core group of councillors is just horrific, to be honest.”

Powell is specific in who he is talking about. He made multiple references to councillors Steve Morris, Dawn Kiddie, John Robson and Andrew Hollis in the council meeting earlier in the day.

“I’m not easily intimidated but it becomes wearying.”

When Powell delivered his resignation announcement at that council meeting, Robson began loudly clapping before Powell had finished. The action incensed members of the public gallery, sparking jeers of “Robson, resign” and “disgusting” and “look at what you’ve done”.

The conflict between elected members was highlighted as a key concern by an expert review team who presented their report recommending the council seek a Crown manager and observer for help.

Yesterday, the council voted in favour of the recommendation moments before Powell announced his resignation.

Sharon Hunter said it was a sad day.

“2020 has been a really long and tough year, for us and for everyone else to be honest. It’s proved to be a bit of a kick in the head for us.

“I’m really, really sad that it came to this but anything is possible. There’s some wonderful leadership shown in a small number around the table. Heidi’s speech was amazing.”

Powell’s mother, Val Heffer, said she was incredibly proud of her son and “very, very relieved”.

“I feel very sorry for the city,” she said.

However, her son had made the right decision, she said.

“He had to, especially for his health. It’s just so sad, really sad.”

Hollis said in response to Powell’s comments that a good leader, in his opinion, did not blame others.

Kiddie and Morris declined to comment. Robson has been contacted.

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