The Green Party has accused the Taranaki Regional Council of shutting down public debate over resource consents activity in the region.
The council has spent $270,000 chasing three members of the Friends of the Waitara River in order to recover the $12,000 cost of an independent resource consents hearing in 2011.
It has now initiated bankruptcy proceedings against the trio.
Green Party environment spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said the council was wasting ratepayer money and discouraging public debate.
"The regional council's effort here to spend $270,000 of ratepayers funds to persecute Friends of Waitara is going to have a potentially chilling effect on public participation."
Eugenie Sage said she had asked the Ombudsman to investigate a potential abuse of power.
The council's chair David MacLeod said wiping the debt would set a bad precedent.