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Presentation to Council: Jim Bright Nov 27th

below is the presentation in full that Jim Bright would have presented to Eurobodalla Shire Council had the Mayor not continually butted into his Public Forum presentation cautioning that if he continues he might well be pulled up on a Point of Order for having deviated from what is allowable. The presentation below was in context with an area of the Annual Report that "celebrated" the statistics around Council not being found guilty of any raised Codes of Conduct. In Jim's presentation he would have like to have sought some clarity around the precis accolades of the Annual Report. In the annual report it stated: Code of Conduct Section 440 of the Local Government Act 1993 requires every council to adopt a Code of Conduct. Councillors and staff are bound by this Code of Conduct, which sets a high standard for ethical behaviour and decision making. The code defines roles and responsibilities and outlines the steps to be followed when making and investigating allegations of breaches of the code. During 2017-18 there were 14 Code of Conduct complaints received. 13 of these were referred to an external Conduct Reviewer and one was referred to the Office of Local Government. 13 complaints were found to have no action required, with one complaint resolved through alternative and appropriate strategies. Code of Conduct complaints cost Council $12,780 this year

Above: Page 129 of the Eurobodalla Council Annual report


27 NOVEMBER 2018

My name is Jim Bright. I'm a resident of Narooma.

I'm here today to speak about the information that is contained in the 2017/18 Annual Report regarding the council's 'code of conduct' complaint processes.

I'll be talking generally about those complaint statistics and about one particular complaint that directly involved me.

To put your minds at rest, I will not be identifying any of the council officials about whom the complaints were lodged nor about the subject matter of those complaints. But I will talking about the procedural issues and problems associated with the handling of the complaints.

Going now to the statistics in question - in 2017/18, the annual report states that, of the 14 complaints lodged, one was referred to the Office of Local Government to be dealt with, and the other 13 complaints were referred for examination by a conduct complaint reviewer - and in the case of every one of those 13 complaints, the statistics show that the decision by the reviewer was that “no action was required” to be taken.

In fact, if you look back at the council's other Annual Reports in recent years, you will find similar outcomes for most of the complaints that have been referred for examination by a reviewer – that is, it appears that there's almost never “anything to see here”.

However, what the statistics do not show is that possibly every single one of the complaints in recent years has been handled and decided by just one particular reviewer. That is, despite the fact that our council is legally obliged to maintain a panel of reviewers for such activities, council staff only ever seem to select the same (apparently well trusted) person to do the job.

This situation is not likely to pass any 'pub test'.

Going now to the particular complaint in which I was involved in the second half of 2017, the situation was as follows.

On 25 September 2017, I had sent an email to some of our councillors outlining my concerns about what I viewed as some very serious ethical and procedural breaches by one of our officials. (I had also sent two previous emails to those councillors on the same topic.) As I understand it, one of those councillors circulated that latest email to the mayor and other councillors.

I have absolutely no problem with that - as I had not sent the email in confidence - and, in fact, I was quite relaxed about the others seeing the contents of it.

A few weeks later, a decision was apparently taken by the mayor (I guess on advice from the GM) to regard my email as an official 'code of conduct' complaint and to refer it to the usual reviewer for examination. (I freely acknowledge that the prescribed procedures did allow the mayor this discretion - regardless of whether I had specifically requested that to happen.)

Personally, I had not chosen to take the path of a formal conduct complaint as I was already fully aware that it would inevitably end up with the usual reviewer and I had already seen a number of examples of poor quality outcomes involving likely bias and a lack of impartiality and professionalism in other reviews that had been undertaken by that person.

Foolishly (as it turns out), after being advised by the council that the matter had been sent to the reviewer, I naturally awaited contact from the reviewer in order to clarify the details of the issue that was to be examined.

(As I had not intended that my email would be handled in this way, I had not written it in a manner that would be appropriate for this purpose and had not included much of the crucial background information and documentation that would be necessary for the reviewer to be able to make an adequately informed decision in the matter.)

Incredibly however, no such contact with me was ever initiated by the reviewer and it was not until well after the review was supposed to have been completed - and after I had made some inquiries with the council on 8 December 2017 - that suddenly the reviewer emailed the report to me the next day – ie on Saturday 9 December. The reviewer claimed that the report had been completed 11 days earlier on 29 November which just happened to be one day inside the legal deadline.

But the reviewer's report looked to me very much like something that had been cobbled together overnight, was almost incomprehensible in parts and completely failed to address the major serious issue mentioned in my email. And, of course, it contained the usual conclusion - “there's nothing to see here”.

The 'code of conduct' complaint handling arrangement in this shire is - and has been for some years – largely a sham. And, no doubt, this is one of the key reasons why the community's trust in the integrity of this council is near rock bottom. From the community's perspective, just under $13,000 of public monies were wasted in 2017/18 on a process that clearly does not result in what it is supposed to do – that is, in providing members of the community with an effective, independent and impartial means to at least partly redress the significant power imbalance that exists between council officials and community members.

In the public interest, councillors have to do something about this situation – and they need to do it some time soon.

Thank you for your attention.

#Council #LocalStateFederal #Opinion

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