Councilman resigns as fallout from Gore Mayor Ben Bell’s meeting continues

Gore District Councilman Bret Highsted has resigned from the council effective immediately.

Kavinda Kerath/Stuff

Gore District Councilman Bret Highsted has resigned from the council effective immediately.

The precipitation of the meeting to address issues between Gore district mayor Ben Bell and council chief executive Stephen Parry has continued, with the shock resignation of Alderman Bret Highsted on Monday afternoon, effective immediately.

Hovell was one of the most experienced councilors around the council table, serving five terms.

In a letter to deputy mayor Keith Hovell, Highsted apologized for commenting to an outside person before the city council extraordinary meeting last weekwhich was held in committee.

Highsted stressed that he had not released any information after the meeting.

* Gore Mayor Ben Bell left the meeting to discuss issues between him and the council’s director
* ‘Traumatic time’: Gore councilors discussed ‘no confidence vote’ in Ben Bell
* ‘Very tense’ relationship between the mayor of Gore and the president of the municipality sinks to a new low

Highsted could not be reached for comment.

In the letter, Highsted said that since last year’s election he has found the council environment “highly stressful and the levels of fear unsustainable”.

In November, Highsted clashed with Bell after he was no chairman or seat on any of the committees has been appointed in Bell’s proposed governance structure.

Highsted was one of four councilors who boycotted a Councilor’s retreat in Cromwellsaying: “Bell had been campaigning to get back to basics and it was ‘disrespectful to the community, taxpayers, business people and the Mataura Licensing Trust to hold a retreat outside the precinct’.

He also called Bell’s request for the municipality to hire a personal assistant a ”vanity project”.

In the last election, Highsted was the top voting candidate for the Gore Ward.

Gore Mayor Ben Bell said Highsted's experience at the council table would be missed.

Kavinda Herath/Stuff

Gore Mayor Ben Bell said Highsted’s experience at the council table would be missed.

He was in his sixth term on the Board and has held numerous senior positions, including Chairman of the Audit and Risk Committee.

Bell was unaware of the layoff when contacted Stuff.

“Was he going to tell his mayor?” he asked.

He didn’t know who the person Highsted had spoken to outside the council before the meeting.

“We had a turbulent time at the beginning of it all, but I felt like we were making progress. He helped some of the new council members with processes, and he has a wealth of experience around the council table that will be missed.

“His 15 or 16 years of service will be fondly remembered. I wish him the best.”

Gore District Council chief Stephen Parry said the resignation would trigger a by-election.


Gore District Council chief Stephen Parry said the resignation would trigger a by-election.

Chief executive Stephen Parry also said Highsted’s contribution to the council table would be missed.

“His colleagues and associates respected him for his agile mind and dedication to his role.”

Highsted’s resignation would trigger a midterm election, Parry said.

The extraordinary meeting on March 28 was designed to provide councilors with an update on the Chief Executive’s review committee.

All councilors attended the meeting, which Hovell presided over.

Both Gore District Mayor Ben Bell and General Manager Stephen Parry were given the opportunity to address the meeting and separately answer questions from council members.

As a result of the meeting, the council unanimously approved the appointment of a council member to act as an intermediary between the mayor and the chief executive officer for governance and relevant operational matters.

cr. Richard McPhail has confirmed he will take on that role, subject to council approval.

The council also decided to remove the mayor from the Chief Executive’s review

Committee and appoints Messrs. Keith Hovell, Richard McPhail, John Gardyne and Bronwyn Reid.