Documents show fraying relationship between pair

Gore Mayor Ben Bell (left) and council CEO Stephen Parry have not been on speaking terms since...
Gore Mayor Ben Bell (left) and council CEO Stephen Parry have not been on speaking terms since December. Images: ODT files
A fraying relationship between Gore Mayor Ben Bell and Gore District Council chief executive Stephen Parry is laid bare in documentation, even while they had been trying to patch things up.

Frustration came to a head at the end of March when both men gave an account of themselves to the district council, but it was another account that caused angst in the lead-up — a bill for mediation services.

An email obtained by the Otago Daily Times this week — from Mr Parry to the mayor and copied to councillors — seems to show mediation fell over after the tardy paying of a bill.

"I record that the mediation was instigated by you as mayor and to the best of my knowledge acting as an individual, in response to concerns expressed by councillors and senior staff," Mr Parry said in an email on March 22.

The mediation had occurred on December 19 last year and he was surprised in early March when he was advised a bill for it had not been paid, Mr Parry said.

"I was unaware of how the mediation came to be arranged, as that was organised through your office," he told Mr Bell.

"Completion of the mediation was hindered by an account from the mediator being sent to you in late January and remaining unpaid."

A council manager ensured the bill was paid, Mr Parry said.

"The mediator then terminated the engagement as he did not think he could bring an impartial mind to complete the process."

Mr Bell replied he would seek an urgent meeting with the full council.

It was not indicated whether he accepted the narrative.

The discussion came on the tail of another about a bill — one for Mr Parry’s legal expenses.

Mr Bell advised that the chief executive’s performance appraisal committee had decided to endorse a recommendation of payment.

"I look forward to putting this behind us," Mr Bell added.

On March 28, both men offered candid recollections of their struggles, telling the council behind closed doors there had been a breakdown in their relationship.

Mr Bell told the council he had suffered sleepless nights and the relationship issue had gone unresolved since last November.

He received a text message on February 27 from the mediation facilitator, saying he had not been paid.

"This was the week that I was off sick," Mr Bell said.

"The facilitator then contacted [the chief executive] for payment that week and then chose to exit the process at this point.

"As a result of the facilitator exiting, we still had no formal record of agreed outcomes from the meeting held in December, signed by both parties."

Mr Parry told the March 28 meeting the period between October and December had been dreadful.

"He had battled on and tried to remain positive and professional despite provocative circumstances and shambolic behaviour on display," the minutes recorded him recounting.

This week, the council apologised to Mr Parry for a leak from the March 28 meeting.

It also issued a statement declaring the mayor and council "wish to voice their unreserved confidence in Mr Parry".

The council decided in April an independent review should be carried out to restore confidence in the organisation.

Terms of reference and who will the lead the review have yet to be confirmed.