Ben Bell to remain Gore's mayor, vote of no confidence abandoned

Ben Bell will remain Gore's mayor after councillors abandoned a vote of no confidence.

Cheers erupted in the packed council chambers on Tuesday after none of the councillors calling for Bell's resignation signalled to move a motion expressing no confidence in him as mayor.

During last year's local elections, Bell took over Gore's mayoral chains from Tracy Hicks, who held the town's top job for 18 years.

Since then, tensions frayed in Gore after the relationship between Mayor Bell and long-serving council CEO Stephen Parry soured.

Parry and Bell have not been speaking since December and Councillor Richard McPhail was appointed as an intermediary for the Mayor and chief executive.

Last week, McPhail and Gore District Council Deputy Mayor Keith Hovell met with Bell and asked him to resign. Their move was backed by councillors Stewart MacDonell, Neville Phillips, Glenys Dickson, Paul McPhail and Bronwyn Reid.

Bell rejected the request and, as a result, the council held an extraordinary meeting, where councillors voted on a motion of no confidence in the mayor. They also voted on whether to seek Government intervention and to remove Bell from all committees.

A new twist in the saga came to light over the weekend with a petition launched by Gore resident Sean Burke calling for the chief executive to resign instead.

New Zealand’s youngest mayor Ben Bell.
New Zealand’s youngest mayor Ben Bell. Photo credit: Facebook

During the extraordinary meeting on Tuesday, not a single Gore District councillor put forward a vote of no confidence.

Bell said during the meeting the two days following the resignation request were the "darkest days of my life".

In a joint statement afterwards, he and the councillors apologised to the community and each other for the turmoil of recent days. They said the elected members have agreed to put their differences aside and refocus on serving the people of the Gore District.

"We have agreed that we all need to communicate more openly and effectively so there are no further misunderstandings that could lead to an irreparable breakdown in trust," the statement said.

It was unanimously agreed not to proceed with the resolutions of a vote of no confidence and the request to remove the Mayor from all Council committees, sub-committees and joint committees.

It was also decided to write to Local Government New Zealand and Taituara asking it to assist with the terms of reference for an independent review to renew confidence in the Council.

The issues relating to the Mayor and chief executive relationship were separate and would be addressed through mediation and an independent review.

The Council resolved that to protect the integrity of the mediation process and the independent review, it will be making no further comment on this topic until both processes are completed.