CONCERNED: Liberal Councillor Jason Pauling believes Brian Bell’s decision to take extended leave before retiring will cost ratepayers too much. LAKEMacquarie’s outgoing general manager Brian Bell has issued a stern warning to Lake Macquarie councillors trying to force him toquit before he’s ready, telling them it is “not for council to determine” when he’ll leave.
After 11 years in the top job, Mr Bell announced last week that he will retire from local government.
Mr Bell plans to leave the job in Junebefore taking a period of “extended leave”, during which an acting general manager will be appointed.
But Liberal councillors Jason Pauling and Kevin Baker have instead sought to force Mr Bell out earlier, saying it “doesn’t serve ourratepayers” for Mr Bell to continue to collect his salary after bowing out.
Angry that the full terms of Mr Bell’s retirement–including his final employment date and the cost of his decision to take leave –are not being made public, at Monday’s meeting Cr Pauling demanded to know“when the general managerwill retire and finalise his employment with this council”.
“He’s given more than four weeks written notice and then intends to take an extended period of leave that appears to not serve our ratepayers in any capacity other than frustrate the recruitment process and allow him to dictate and appoint the acting general manager into the future,” he said.
Prior to the meeting Cr Pauling sought to lodge a number of notice of motions calling for Mr Bell to leavea “mutually agreed”four weeks after Monday’s council meeting.
However the motions were blocked by Mr Bell, who sent a memo to councillors on Monday afternoon before the meeting saying he’d refused them on the basis they were “unlawful” because, he said, they were “ultra vires”, or, beyond the council’s power.
Instead, Cr Pauling sought to lodge the motions again in the chamber, arguing they were “valid”, but was blocked by Labor mayor KayFraserwho said his comments about Mr Bell were “petty” and “disgraceful”.
“An agreement is not required between the council and the general manager before retiring, as is standard practice in most professions,” she said.
“I don’t think we’re hear to say the general manager will retire when we want him to …that’s not how it works in the real world.”
But at the meeting Mr Bell offered his ownrebuke to Cr Pauling, saying there was “no need” for him to explain the terms of his retirement to the full council.
“The reality is that I have put my notice in and the moment I put my notice in it was done in terms of it being received by the council,” he said.
“I made it really clear in my email that I will be physically leaving the administration in June and that I will take extended leave.
“It is normal standard practice …I do take exception to the suggestion that I might be playing the council, I stand on my record and I say that this is simply not an appropriate thing to say about my circumstances.”
In a separate mayoral minute put by Cr Fraser, the majority of councillors agreedto begin the process of hiring a general manager to replace Mr Bell.