Gore CEO goes

This week’s announcement of the resignation of Gore District Council’s long-serving chief executive, Stephen Parry, was hardly a surprise. We were never convinced the outbreak of sweetness and light signalled when mayor Ben Bell and councillors apologised to Mr Parry in June was real.

After that, all involved went to ground over any issues involving the difficulties in relationships within the council, both between Mr Bell and Mr Parry and Mr Bell and his councillors.

Now Mr Parry has resigned, we wonder if that was the plan at that time and part of the deal was all keeping their counsel.

Had Mr Parry suggested the mayor and councillors were courting considerable reputational and financial risk?

We can, of course, only speculate because there is still much we do not know about this saga.

The June apology came after months of media focus on the relationship between Mr Bell and Mr Parry and Mr Bell and councillors, a focus which in the end came short of clearly establishing details of what had gone on.

The vacuum that provided meant it was easy for fervour to be whipped up over the situation, with many seeing it as a classic battle of the generations, with the young enthusiastic go-getter being shut down by the old guard.

As we have said before, common sense would suggest the situation was likely to be more nuanced and complicated than that.

What we do know is that Mr Bell and Mr Parry’s relationship started badly after the young mayor was narrowly elected last year, unseating long serving mayor Tracy Hicks, whose longstanding relationship with Mr Parry had, as far as we know, been collegial and positive.

The relationship deteriorated to the point where an intermediary was appointed to act between them. But there were also issues between Mr Bell and councillors, and later a majority of councillors felt moved to call for a vote of no confidence in Mr Bell because of his unspecified "actions".

Stephen Parry. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Stephen Parry. PHOTO: ODT FILES
In the end that vote, which would have been pointless anyway since Mr Bell is an elected representative, was never put, but it suggested significant frustration from most councillors about whatever was going on behind closed doors.

Whether all tensions will miraculously disappear with the departure of Mr Parry is unknown.

What is clear is that the handling of this shemozzle has been a shambles, and we suspect, an expensive one for the council from both a monetary and prestige perspective.

In April the council agreed to seek an independent review advising on practical measures that could be undertaken to restore confidence in the council.

But the second iteration of the draft terms of reference — which went to a meeting in late May — were never finalised, although Mr Bell says the matter will be on the agenda of the council’s meeting next week.

Councillors and the mayor are reported to have had one-on-one sessions with a facilitator ahead of a joint facilitation, something Mr Bell has described as being just what the council needed.

It had provided an open space where all could talk about the issues they had between themselves, and it showed there was "an overwhelming desire to put things behind us and move forward together".

However, we wonder if that is sufficient. The proposed review, which if it had gone ahead was supposed to be completed by the middle of this month, was expected to provide recommendations about how the council might conduct itself in future.

As outlined in the second draft terms of reference, it would have included looking at reasons why trust and confidence between the various parties eroded and also whether any cultural, capacity or capability factors impacted on how all were able to meet their obligations.

Without such a review and the subsequent public reporting of that, it may be hard for ratepayers, and indeed candidates for the chief executive’s position, to be assured recent history will not be repeated.