Two Gore district councillors boycotted mayor Ben Bell’s retreat for elected members, another left, and the council says it does not know what the final cost of the two-day meeting will be.
But some councillors who attended said it was a good meeting, and there was some ‘’good, robust debate.’’
The retreat, which was held on Sunday and Monday, was held in Cromwell and was organised by Bell’s private executive assistant, Shanna Crosbie.
Councillors Bret Highsted and Neville Phillips did not attend the retreat, and Richard McPhail left before it began.
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Highsted said Bell had campaigned on getting back to basics and it was ‘’disrespectful to the community, ratepayers, business people and the Mataura Licencing Trust to hold a retreat outside the district.’’
Phillips said he had still not seen the agenda for the retreat.
“This was meant to be a year when we consolidated our spending and only spent what was necessary. Why spend money on going to Cromwell when we have perfectly good facilities in our own district?’’
Cr Richard McPhail travelled to Cromwell but did not stay.
“Prior to the commencement of the retreat I spoke to the mayor and a couple of the councillors and indicated that due to professionalism, trust and integrity, that I would not attend,’’ he said.
He said he meant no disrespect to the mayor by not attending, but would not elaborate further on what led to him making that decision.
Cr Glenys Dickson said she travelled to the venue both days instead of staying overnight.
“I actually think it is our responsibility as community representatives to go to the new mayor’s retreat and find out the strategy for the next three years, and it’s a shame other councillors did not attend,’’ she said.
“It could have been a good team building experience.’’
Deputy mayor Stewart MacDonell said there was ‘’good robust discussion’’ amongst councillors who attended.
With regard to the retreat being held in Cromwell, he said councillors were told that when Bell tried to book at Gore’s Croydon Lodge nothing was available.
Crosbie said council staff knew she was organising the retreat, and she was not given a budget.
“Ben’s plan was to go out of town to have a bonding experience with the councillors, stay the night, and get to know each other. He paid for dinner out, because he hasn’t got a council credit card yet,’’ she said.
She and Bell had started organising the retreat before former mayor Tracy Hicks announced he was applying for a recount, she said.
There were four guest speakers and an MC, but she said she did not know what they charged.
She had also asked the council to purchase a small gift of thanks for each of the guest speakers.
The guest speakers were Terry Nicholas from the Hokonui Rūnanga, who attended via zoom; Central Otago District Council mayor Tim Cadogan; Future Whenua Initiative chief technology officer Rob Swatton, and First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson. Ross Allen, of Queenstown, who is founder/chief strategist of Leverage, was the MC.
All invoices for their services, all accommodation, the venue, catering and stationary were sent to the council, she said.
Council chief executive Stephen Parry said the council had not received all invoices and expense claims to date, but it would cover all ‘’reasonable costs.’’
“I can confirm that food, accommodation and function room hire costs at the Harvest Hotel, in Cromwell, totalled $3,778.50.’’
The venue was booked by Crosbie and council staff had no involvement in booking the venue, he said.
“The council was advised in an email on November 3 that the mayor had his PA Shanna Crosbie working on the retreat. In the email, the mayor asked that staff not book anything without his say so. At no point did Shanna contact staff about a budget or provide any financial information such as quotes from guest speakers.’’
The council’s senior management team of six staff attended on Monday and gave presentations to the councillors present, he said.
Parry confirmed seven councillors and the mayor attended the retreat, and not all stayed overnight.
Bell is on leave and has not responded to attempts to contact him, but on Friday, Parry moved to clarify his leave.
“In an email on Wednesday, titled Mayoral Absence, the mayor said “I have been on the go constantly since being sworn in” and “I have decided to take some time for the rest of the week.”
He advised senior staff and councillors he would be answering emails and doing some work, and could be contacted by phone. The email said the deputy mayor would be “his man on the ground” and could also be contacted if there were any issues,’’ Parry said.
On Tuesday, the council voted not to employ a personal assistant for Bell. Crosbie said on Friday she was still working for him in a voluntary capacity to help him out.
“To be honest the council never employed me, people think I’ve been paid but I never have.
“Ben is a good friend and he lives next door to me, I’m just helping him out.’’