Brian Bell’s end date tolls Lake Macquarie council debate | poll

"HELD IN HIGH REGARD": Retiring Lake Macquarie council general manager Brian Bell, with former mayor Jodie Harrison.

"HELD IN HIGH REGARD": Retiring Lake Macquarie council general manager Brian Bell, with former mayor Jodie Harrison.

A SPLIT has formed between Lake Macquarie councillors over the treatment of retiring general manager Brian Bell, and a push to have his leaving date brought forward.

Liberal councillor Jason Pauling wants Mr Bell to depart a “mutually agreed” four weeks after Monday’s council meeting, despite the general manager of 11 years announcing plans to leave at the end of June.

Supporting “a quick clean break” from Mr Bell’s tenure, Cr Pauling will also move for an acting interim general manager to be appointed for six months.

During that time, Cr Pauling wants two panels of four councillors – including mayor Kay Fraser – to recruit a permanent general manager and review Mr Bell’s performance in the near-$400,00-a-year job.

“This is pretty much a once-in-a-decade appointment. We need six months to do this, and that’s why I think we need an interim GM,” Cr Pauling said.

“My issue is there’s this drawn-out, Brian Bell sunset celebration period. The quicker and cleaner we get on with it, the better.”

The comments drew an impassioned defence of Mr Bell from the mayor.

“I am extremely disappointed by councillor Pauling’s mean-spirited response to our general manager’s retirement,” Cr Fraser said.

“Brian is held in high regard by all at Lake Macquarie City Council and throughout the Hunter, and deserves to be treated with more respect.”

Labor councillor Brian Adamthwaite said Mr Bell deserved credit for keeping the council clear of the NSW government’s forced council merger calculations.

Allowing him to leave at the end of June would ultimately aid the transition to his successor, Cr Adamthwaite said, because it would free him to hand over the job.

Cr Adamthwaite’s Labor colleague, Cr Barney Langford, said he thought the council would appoint an interim general manager.

“But given the service that he’s given to the council, he should be able to choose the time of his leaving.”

Mr Bell, who declined to comment, received a Public Service Medal in last January’s Australia Day Honours Awards.

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