Dear Beagle Editor and Beagle readers, You might be interested in our latest media release we have titled "Code of Conduct Process Abuse …." We have noticed that there is also disquiet by contributors and commentators of the Beagle in regards to how Codes of Conduct have been dealt with in the Eurobodalla and how the Office of Local Government has been indifferent to the outcries by residents and ratepayers when it is suggested that the process is either flawed, the finding is flawed or the Code of Conduct precedures have been compromised. Your own Councillors might be interested in this Letter to the Editor as well: Code of Conduct Process Abuse ….
The Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) notes that at last Wednesday’s Ordinary Meeting of Council, Cr Bain spoke to the Independent Reviewer’s finding that she had breached council’s Code of Conduct in respect of the Cattle Bay Marina development, by not having declared a non-pecuniary conflict of interest in the matter, & council’s acceptance of those findings, before apologising to council.
While the decision by Cr Bain was obviously a matter for her, the BVSRRA believes that the process that lead to her decision & the decision in respect of the code of conduct complaint made against Cr Fitzpatrick may have been tainted in a number of serious ways, reflecting its flawed nature & the fact that it is open to abuse.
The Procedures for the Administration of the Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW were designed not only to guide councils in the proper management of code of conduct complaints but also to ensure procedural fairness & integrity are maintained.
With the above in mind, the procedures explicitly require that where a councillor has been found to have breached council’s Code of Conduct & councillors are to meet to consider the reviewer’s findings & recommendations, they are to be provided with a complete copy of the report prepared by the reviewer (see clause 8.45).
The BVSRRA believes that the above requirement exists to ensure that councillors are fully acquainted with all the facts & circumstances involved in the breach & to ensure that they fully understand the basis for the Independent Reviewer’s findings & recommendations, before making any final decisions as to whether they should accept or reject some or all of those recommendations.
The BVSRRA understands that in determining how they should respond to the findings & recommendations made by the Independent Reviewer in the case of the Cr Bain & Cr Fitzpatrick code of conduct complaints, councillors were not provided with copies of the final investigation reports, but rather were only provided with a ‘summary’ of the reports prepared by unnamed council officials.
The BVSRRA not only believes that this amounts to a serious abuse of process but that it clearly denied councillors a critical opportunity to assess the matters for themselves by considering the Independent Reviewer’s report & not an interpretation of those reports, which effectively amounts to no more than hearsay, while placing the councillors at serious risk of making flawed decisions through no fault of their own; not to forget the potential downside for those individuals who have been found to have committed the breach.
Further, in the case of the Cr Fitzpatrick, councillors resolved not to accept the Independent Reviewer’s recommendations, even though they were not apparently provided with a copy of the final report, however, they failed to include the reasons for their decision in their resolution on the matter as is also required under the Procedures for the Administration of the Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW (see clause 8.59).
The BVSRRA notes that the Independent Reviewer found that both Cr Bain & Cr Fitzpatrick had breached the council’s Code of Conduct, but that councillors only accepted the recommendations made in respect of Cr Bain.
Without intending any disrespect to the councillors, the BVSRRA is appalled that they appear to have been placed in a position where they were being asked to stand in judgement on the behaviour of their colleagues, while being denied the opportunity to be fully & properly informed.
Not for the first time, the BVSRRA has written to the Office of Local Government (OLG) highlighting its concerns that the administration of Code of Conduct matters by BVSC is not being managed in accordance with the Procedures for the Administration of the Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW & requesting the OLG to investigate the matter with the view to ensuring that the correct administrative practices are adopted & observed moving forward.
The BVSRRA has also suggested to the OLG that it would be appropriate for it to initiate a review of recent code of conduct decisions made by council, in the interests of ensuring that inappropriate decisions have not been made as a result of inappropriate management. John Richardson Secretary/Treasurer Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association
Above: It continues to be interesting looking over the fence - it seems we aren't alone in the various issues at hand when it comes to local governance. Editor