Gore Council, Ben Bell saga: Independent review needed, LGNZ National Council member says

Gore District Councillors have been asked to slow down in their bid to have Mayor Ben Bell resign.

National Council member Campbell Barry believes any move to oust Bell without investigating all the claims would be "premature".

Tensions have frayed in Gore after the relationship between Mayor Bell and the council CEO Stephen Parry soured.

Parry and Bell have not been speaking since December and last month, Councillor Richard McPhail was appointed as a go-between for the Mayor and chief executive.

Councillors will vote on motions asking for the Mayor to resign and write a letter to the Local Government Minister for support on Tuesday. 

However, before any moves are made to oust the Mayor, the membership body that supports New Zealand councils says a formal review into the situation is needed.

Barry, who is also the Hutt City Mayor, told AM on Monday it's a tricky balance and the council has some work to do.

"I would say in a local government, the sitting chief executive does hold a significant amount of influence and power and it's really important you have a good balance between your operations side and also your governance," Barry told co-host Ryan Bridge.

"So sometimes those lines can get blurred in issues when they arise around the council table, so again, it's really important they get to the bottom of this by doing a thorough review and investigating all the issues."

He urges the council to set up an independent review very quickly and agree on an independent person to run it so the saga can be resolved. 

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

The petition started on Saturday evening and had already garnered over 2400 signatures by  Monday morning.

It was also recently revealed by Newsroom that bullying allegations at the council go back two decades.

Before Bell was elected last year, Tracy Hicks with the local mayor for 18 years (2004-2022). 

Barry, who has met both Bell and Parry over the last few months, believes whenever there is change within local government it can take time to get used to. 

"What I would say is that I think when you have a change, a new mayor coming in, an established executive, councillors who have been around the table sometimes for decades in councils across New Zealand, it is really challenging," he said.

"I think what's really clear and this is the advice from LGNZ (Local Government New Zealand) is the council does need to get all of these issues into a process."

National Council member Campbell Barry.
National Council member Campbell Barry. Photo credit: AM

Barry told AM the Mayor and the chief executive don't need to be operating "hand in glove" but do they need to be to work with one another.

"I think in a New Zealand context, we do have a bit of a city manager style of government. So both the chief executive role and the mayor role are incredibly important. Now, those two positions, don't need to be acting hand-in-glove," he said.

"My view and this is my approach with my chief executive, it's a relationship of high trust and high challenge.

"The officers should be able to give him advice, free and frank advice to elected members, but also elected members should be able to hold the management to account and ultimately put their agenda forward and their priorities forward and ultimately, public servants need to be able to respond to that."

Watch the full interview with Campbell Barry in the video above.