Dear Beagle Editor,
Council responds to letter of concern.
Readers might recall an earlier Letter to the Editor (Guilty until proven guilty ) in regards to the questioning of Eurobodalla Council and their refusal to allow Mr Potts of Narooma the opportunity to present at a Council Public Forum as he had been banned from presenting until he apologised for a previous action. Some Back ground: Council's letter on the matter- dated Dec 18th, Thank you for your email of 4 December 2017 with regard to when the resolution of Council was made to ban Mr Joe Potts from the chamber pending an apology. The Mayor has referred your enquiry to me and in response I provide the following.There is no reference under the Local Government Act 1993 regarding members from the public addressing councillors at a Council meeting. Under section 5.10 of Council's Code of Meeting Practice, Council actively encourages participation of residents in the decision-forming process and hearing from people regarding matters raised in the business paper. Council makes provisions for members of the public to address Council at its meetings as set out in the Code of Meeting Practice.At the Council meeting of 23 July 2013 Minute No. PF13/23 (copy below) states in part 'at the conclusion of Mr Potts' address to Council, Council Thomson advised that he wished to lodge a formal complaint against Mr Potts. Councillor Thomson stated that after the presentation Mr Potts had accosted him by deliberately bumping him and said "Any more smart comments from you and I will have you".Councillor Thomson asked that Mr Potts be banned from this chamber and demanded a public apology from Mr Potts.' I remain concerned that a member of the public, has virtually been banned from chambers for life, unless he apologises for ‘alleged’ misconduct for which he has never been proven guilty.
In my view, it is deceptive of council to justify its actions by referring to its Code of Meeting Practice section 5.10 (16), as (15) should also be referenced : " ... the person engaging in such behaviour(disorder) will be ruled out of order by the chairperson and may be expelled from the meeting."
Mr P was not ruled ‘out of order,’ or expelled from that particular meeting (according to the minutes below).
It is therefore assumed that the alleged incident did not occur during the meeting. If it did, the Chair would have been within rights to expel him immediately from the meeting. If the Chair did not hear or witness the incident, surely adjacent councillors would have, and responded by bringing the incident to the Chair’s attention.
If the alleged incident did not occur during the meeting (which council has never proven or even followed up) then Council has no right to ban Mr P from chambers, or from presenting at public forum, as the Code would not apply when the meeting was not in progress. It would have been up to Clr Thomson to pursue an apology.
Even councillors found guilty of misconduct are not expelled or suspended longer than 3 months (LGA section 440 (i). They are also given the opportunity to provide an explanation or submission regarding the incident. Mr P was not afforded these privileges, simply being told he must apologise to Council and Clr Thomson specifically.
Why would he have to apologise to Council, if no one heard or witnessed the alleged incident? Also of note is section 10.5 in Council's Code ( also in the Model Code): Entitlement to attend Meetings - "A person (whether a councillor or another person) is not entitled to be present at meeting of Council............. if expelled from the meeting: a) by a resolution of Council b) by the person presiding at the meeting, if the Council has, by resolution, authorised the person presiding to exercise the power of expulsion." By resolving to extend the current Code of Meeting Practice, minute 17/294, does not resolve to permit the chair to expel Mr P, as he was not, “asked to withdraw and/or apologise for comments or behaviour,” and he did not “refuse to to do so” [section 5.10 (16) of Code] at the 2013 meeting.”
I believe, this situation has been managed extremely badly by council for the following reasons:
* council did not investigate the incident
* council has provided no evidence/witnesses to Mr P’s alleged misconduct
* council gave Mr P no opportunity to defend himself - to tell his ‘side of the story.’
* there is no record that the alleged incident occurred during a council meeting
It is my view,
* that Mr P should be permitted back into the Chamber and allowed to make presentations.
* that council should consider incorporating non mandatory options for dealing with such a situation, in their own Code, when the new Model Code of Meeting Practice comes out this year.
I would also like to state that I do not know Mr P, and I held Councillor/Mayor Fergus Thomson in high regard.
COUNCIL RESPONSE (8 Jan 2018 below)
I actually find it most disturbing that council would deem such a response 'satisfies my concerns,' as it doesn’t even address them!
* a member of the public has been banned from 'chambers,' not just Public Forum.
* if Mr P doesn't apologise he is effectively banned from chambers for ever.
* the minutes of the 23 July 2013 meeting DO NOT reflect that the alleged behaviour occurred DURING that meeting, as the behaviour was not ruled 'out of order,' and Mr P was not 'expelled' from that meeting (Council's Code of Meeting Prac).
In fact, the minutes show that Clr Thomson had to “advise” council of the incident.
It wasn't until 7 weeks later that council wrote to Mr P requesting an apology.
* if this 'alleged' act of disorder occurred DURING a public meeting; why was it not recognised by the chair? or brought to the chairs attention by either Councillor Thomson himself or councillors who witnessed it?
Council has failed to justify its actions in banning a member of the public from council chambers indefinitely.
Deua River Valley