RELATIONSHIPS between Newcastle councillors soured yesterday, as they accused one another of playing politics, wasting time and making "toxic comments".
Divisions and tensions beneath the surface were revealed after the Newcastle Herald reported that lord mayor Jeff McCloy had called Labor councillor Jason Dunn a "petty little schoolgirl" in a voicemail message.
Several councillors, including deputy mayor Brad Luke (Liberal), pointed the finger at members of the Labor faction and claimed they had destabilised the council by "carrying on about insignificant, petty little things".
Cr Nuatali Nelmes (Labor) said comments blaming Labor were an attempt to divert attention from Cr McCloy's message.
"This has nothing to do with party politics, it's unacceptable behaviour," Cr Nelmes said.
The dispute began after Cr Dunn twice questioned general manager Phil Pearce about the authority of Josh Hodges, the former Port Stephens councillor who has been working on council business in an unofficial capacity since the election.
One of Cr Dunn's questions is understood to have been about attendance at a regular dinner at City Hall, held after council meetings for councillors and staff.
Cr Therese Doyle (Greens) and Cr Stephanie Posniak (Labor) both said yesterday they had also asked questions of Mr Pearce about Mr Hodges's role.
"Jason's questions were quite mild and reasonable," Cr Doyle said.
Cr Lisa Tierney said Cr McCloy was "elected for his potential to solve large-scale problems, not for his political correctness".
"Labor should stop attacking him with time-wasting, insignificant issues and unite behind him," she said.
Others called for unity.
Cr Andrea Rufo (Independent) urged councillors to leave politics at the door.
"We have a long road ahead of us with some very tough decisions that need to be made," he said.
"We have been elected to council to work together for our city, to simply get the job done and not for the good of any political party."
Both councillors at the centre of the debate stuck to their guns yesterday.
"As a councillor I'm expected to be asking questions of the general manager about the operations of council, and I should be free to perform my duties without duress or threats," Cr Dunn said.
Cr McCloy has vowed not to change his style.
"I had good reason for saying to Cr Dunn what I said. I won't change who I am. I'll defend myself," he said.