Head of the table . . . Leading his first ordinary Gore District Council meeting last week is mayor Ben Bell (left), who was unsuccessful in his request for a personal assistant after the matter was raised in a report from council chief executive Stephen Parry. PHOTO: MICHAEL CURREEN

Gore’s new mayor, who campaigned against wasteful spending, has had his request for a personal assistant blocked by his fellow councillors.

Mayor Ben Bell recently requested the Gore District Council employ him a dedicated assistant and cover $4584 of expenses for a recent trip he and Shanna Crosbie, who had been acting as his assistant, took to a Local Government NZ conference in Wellington.

Reports pertaining to both requests were presented to councillors by chief executive Stephen Parry for their consideration at a full council meeting last week.

Mr Parry said despite Ms Crosbie assisting Mr Bell after the election, she was not a council employee and staff were not made aware she was attending the conference, which in itself was unusual.

The council also already employed an executive assistant to both the mayor and chief executive, similar to other councils in the region, Mr Parry said in his report.

Mr Bell said at the meeting that he had since withdrawn his claim for Ms Crosbie’s expenses, but still proceeded with his request for the council to employ him a dedicated assistant, which no other councillor supported.

Cr Bret Highsted said he was ‘‘deeply concerned’’ with the proposal, which could cost the community as much as $85,000.

‘‘Ben — Mr Mayor, you campaigned on ‘back to basics’ and eliminating vanity projects.

‘‘I have to say, this role could be viewed as your own personal vanity project,’’ he said.

Mr Bell told The Ensign after the meeting he had requested a personal assistant because of all the extra media attention he was getting as the country’s youngest mayor.

‘‘Whether I think it’s my own personal vanity project, I think that’s a bit out of order. But that’s a councillor’s feelings and so, you know, I’ve got to take those on board.’’

Despite taking a bit of heat over the issue, Mr Bell said he had been prepared to discuss it.

‘‘It was addressed by councillors that maybe we shouldn’t be discussing that, but I actually did want to. You’ve got to be transparent. Even if I lost it, which obviously happened, it was still out in the open, rather than behind closed doors.

‘‘So although that’s bad media for me, at least it’s honest media.’’