Gore mayor Ben Bell and council chief executive Stephen Parry. Screenshot: 1 News

Lawyer and former political journalist Linda Clark is expected to head an independent review tasked with restoring confidence in Gore District Council.

Councillors at an extraordinary council meeting on Tuesday will consider several recommendations including to appoint Clark to lead the probe, and to approve unbudgeted expenditure of $130,000 plus GST to pay for the review.

The Council has been beset with controversary since last year, when Ben Bell ousted long-standing mayor Tracy Hicks, preceding a widely reported breakdown in the relationship between council chief executive Stephen Parry and Bell.

Earlier this month, a vote of no confidence in the mayor and a bid to remove Bell from all committees fizzled-out after none of his fellow councillors agreed to support either motion.

At the May 30 meeting, councillors will also be asked to approve the review’s terms of reference, that have been prepared by representatives from Local Government New Zealand, Taituarā and Gore District Council.

The report, prepared by the council’s deputy chief executive and general manager community lifestyle services, also outlines the scope of the review.

This includes reasons why trust and confidence have been adversely affected.

It will also look at whether the induction of the mayor and elected councillors post-election 2022 was adequate to ensure all parties understood their roles and responsibilities and ways in which communication between the parties can be improved.

Included in the scope is whether any factors associated with culture, capacity and capability of the council impacted on how the parties have been able to meet their obligations under the Local Government Act and to their local community.

Clark, an award-winning journalist and former TVNZ political editor, is a partner at Dentons Kensington Swan.

Lawyer Linda Clark. Photo: Supplied

Recent reviews undertaken by Clark include an independent review of how the Upper Hutt City Council managed on-going noise complaints involving a local factory and also breaches of the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act. Clark also assisted former Police Commissioner Mike Bush in his review of the Auckland Council’s flood response.

The paper for councillors about the independent review to restore confidence in the Gore District Council says it is important to note the review is to provide recommendations to more forward and is not an investigation to determine findings or fault.

The report says the reviewer may consider any other matter that emerges from their inquiry relevant to ensuring all parties can work more constructively together.

The review is expected to provide recommendations about how the council might conduct itself, which may include recommendations to introduce processes and procedures to amend, stop or affirm current processes and procedures

According to the report Clark will interview “interested parties,” that includes Bell, deputy mayor Keith Hovell, elected councillors, senior executive staff employed by the council, members of the Mataura community board and representatives of the local rūnanga as well as any other person considered relevant.

Once complete, the final report will go to the full council and be made public. The review is expected to be completed by no later than mid-September this year.

The council meeting next Tuesday will not, however, consider a nearly 5,000 strong online petition calling for chief executive Stephen Parry to resign as it has not been included on the agenda. Stuff reported on Friday the petition will instead go before the council on June 13.

* But as well as the Clark review, the council will discuss next week its draft annual plan proposal for an 11.56 percent rates increase, and a recommendation not to put it out to public consultation.

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