Majority of Gore District Council calls on Mayor Ben Bell to resign

8:28 pm on 11 May 2023
Ben Bell, Gore

Ben Bell Photo: Supplied / Facebook

New Zealand's youngest ever mayor is being called on to resign by the majority of his council.

Ben Bell won Gore's mayoral chains with a razor-thin margin at October's local elections.

Since then, Gore District Council has been beset by controversies and discord.

They included a spat over Bell's wish to appoint his own executive assistant, expenses related to his trip to mayoral training in Wellington, a council retreat which was boycotted by some councillors, the mayor's plan for committee structure and membership, and the attempted requisition and ultimate resignation of his first-choice for deputy mayor.

RNZ revealed in March that Bell and council chief executive Stephen Parry were no longer speaking.

At a meeting last month, councillor Richard McPhail was appointed as an intermediary for the two men.

Now McPhail, deputy mayor Keith Hovell, and five of the other eight councillors are calling for Bell to go.

On Wednesday, Hovell and McPhail met with Bell to ask him to resign.

- Listen to The Detail's episode on the ructions at the Gore District Council here

Bell's actions in recent weeks had led to the difficult decision to request his resignation, Hovell said.

The majority of councillors had lost confidence in the mayor and lost trust in him acting in the best interests of the community and council as a whole, Hovell said.

Bell rejected the request and as a result the council would hold an extraordinary meeting next week to vote on a number of measures, including calling on Local Government Minister Kieran McAnulty to intervene.

The council would vote on three motions:

  • That the council writes to the minister of local government requesting a meeting with council representatives. The purpose of the meeting will be to talk about intervention measures available to assist the council to effectively govern and conduct its business as usual
  • That the council passes a vote of no confidence in the mayor
  • The council removes the mayor from all committees, sub-committees and joint committees

In a statement on Thursday night, Bell said it was disappointing to see the councillors call for his resignation.

"I am still uncertain as to why this step has been taken during this time. Despite this, I am hopeful the council can communicate effectively and work through this," Bell said.

"I am very mindful of the impact this is having on the community and wish reassure the Gore District that I remain committed to undertaking the role I was elected to do, I am also grateful for the many messages of support I have received."

He said he would not be commenting further for now.

At last month's meeting, the council attempted to remove Bell from the committee which oversaw the performance of the chief executive.

However, he pushed back, noting the Local Government Act made the mayor a defacto member of all council committees.

Hovell said he hoped the council could preserve democratic representation in the Gore District with some support from central government.

"We are eager to continue to represent the interests of the wider community and the people we serve," he said.

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