Gore Council, Ben Bell saga: Petitioner seeks to oust chief executive

By Tim Brown of RNZ

A petition calling for Gore District Council's chief executive to resign has garnered almost 1000 signatures in less than a day.

Chief executive Stephen Parry and Gore Mayor Ben Bell have not been speaking since December.

Last month, councillor Richard McPhail was appointed as a go-between for the mayor and chief executive.

But on Wednesday, McPhail and deputy mayor Keith Hovell met with Bell to ask him to resign.

Then on Friday, the pair organised a meeting with the Department of Internal Affairs and the majority of councillors, but Bell and one of his closest allies, Robert McKenzie, were not invited.

Hovell would not answer questions about his reasons for asking Bell to resign or the meeting with DIA when contacted by RNZ on Saturday.

An extraordinary meeting of the council is scheduled for Tuesday, where councillors will vote on a motion of no confidence in the mayor, as well as calling for a meeting with Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty to ask him to intervene and to remove Bell from all council committees.

Now a petition has been launched by Gore resident Sean Burke calling for the chief executive to resign instead.

It was started yesterday evening and had already garnered almost 1000 signatures by midday today.

"The people of Gore are fed up with the circus surrounding our local council and the efforts being made by a select few to oust our newly elected mayor. This appears to be being driven by a select few of the 'old guard' on council who seem more than happy to 'leak' stories to the press," Burke wrote.

He accused Parry of presiding over a bullying culture.

Parry is away on leave at the moment.

Newsroom recently revealed bullying allegations at the council going back two decades.

"Given GDC are wanting to get rid of Ben Bell as the elected mayor, now is the time to act - and show the councillors who WE elected who needs to go for the better of Gore, and its people," Burke wrote.

"Sign now to show how many want to see the back of Steve Parry as CEO, so the council can get on with what it is supposed to do - instead of wasting time and ratepayers' money on legal fees."

Speaking to media this morning, McAnulty said he would not decide on whether to meet with Gore councillors until he had read their letter.

"A relationship breakdown doesn't warrant a specific intervention from the government," he said.

"We've had a couple of examples recently where there have been interventions. Tauranga, where commissioners were put in, but that was at the end of a very long process of trying to get things sorted. And Invercargill, where all that took was some independent advice to come in and restructure things and make it work.

"At the moment Gore council is meeting its statutory requirements so as the [Local Government] Act spells out - there's no need for me to step in. But we are keeping an eye on it, Department of Internal Affairs are working with the council to try to help get things sorted, but ultimately at the moment that's on them and I would encourage them to focus on a solution."