Need for assistant for mayor queried

Ben Bell. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Ben Bell. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
New Gore Mayor Ben Bell wants his own personal assistant — but the council chief executive is against any appointment, saying the matter could potentially be embarrassing for the council.

The Gore District Council will meet for business today and Mr Bell faces some headwinds at his first full meeting.

Council executive Steve Parry is also questioning the new mayor’s need for a personal assistant and Mr Bell’s request to cover expenses for a trip to Wellington by himself and his personal assistant, Shanna Crosbie.

Mr Bell was elected to the job after narrowly defeating incumbent Tracy Hicks in last month’s election.

In a report to the meeting today, council chief executive Steve Parry said secretarial support for the mayor’s office had traditionally been provided by the council’s corporate support staff.

A dedicated secretary or administrative support for the mayor’s office had not been provided or required over the past 20 years. In a council restructure earlier this year, an executive assistant was appointed to the mayor and the chief executive.

When Mr Bell was elected, he used a personal assistant to deal with media inquiries.

"This private personal assistant has continued to assist His Worship in diary management, press releases and travel bookings. In some instances, the private personal assistant is committing the council to costs despite not being a council employee," Mr Parry said in his report.

"The current situation is confusing and poses a reputational risk to the council ... To date, press releases have been emanating from the mayor’s private personal assistant and refer all media inquiries to her. This has seen press releases on the same subject, but with different content, being issued by both the mayor’s private personal assistant and the council’s communications team.

"The result is confusion and potential embarrassment for the council, and over time may see media confidence in the council eroded. It may also cause some animosity if all media are not being treated equally and provided with press releases at the same time."

No other mayors in Southland had dedicated personal assistants. Employing a personal assistant could cost up to $85,000 a year and it would have to be a contestable position, so there was no guarantee the person employed in the role at present would get the job. Mr Bell was expected to speak at the meeting about the role.

Mr Parry also questioned the decision for the personal assistant to go to Wellington with Mr Bell to attend a two-day training session for new mayors.

Mr Parry said he was surprised to learn the personal assistant would be attending the seminar. In the past 20 years he knew of no executive assistant going to a seminar of this kind.

Mr Bell had applied to be reimbursed for $4584 for the seminar but the council was offering $2084. It might increase the offer to $2481 to acknowledge Mr Bell was unaware of the proper processes to follow.

The amount he would be reimbursed would be decided at the meeting today. Mr Bell would not be able to speak about the reimbursement, nor would Cr Joe Stringer, who is Ms Crosbie’s partner.