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When Sorry just doesn't cut it

All too often we hear political and industry leaders say "sorry" as if that is good enough to exonerate them from what ever grand sin they were discovered doing. This week the Beagle editor received a "sorry" letter from Eurobodalla Council. A single line at the end of a letter penned by the Divisional Manager Governance & Administrative Services/Public Officer that said :

Sorry Mr Divisional Manager Governance & Administrative Services/Public Officer, your 'apology' is NOT accepted. I consider it to be token, insincere, forced as a consequence of being publicly exposed and offering no explanation as to why three senior staff members, including yourself, the Director of Corporate and Commercial Services and the General Manager, overstepping your collective delegated authority Some background: The week before the Beagle editor received a very official letter from Council advising that:

The crime for such harsh treatment to receive NO future Code of Conduct complaints, ever? It all started on April 9th 2019 when Eurobodalla Council formally adopted the Office of Local Government's new mandatory Code of Conduct arrangements. These mandatory procedures included the following clause.

12.2 Where a complainant publicly discloses information on one or more occasions about a code of conduct complaint they have made or purported to make, the general manager or their delegate MAY, with the consent of the Office, determine that the complainant is to receive no further information about their complaint and any future code of conduct complaint they make or purport to make.” According to Council, and contrary to their adopted Code, The Beagle, on November 18th, 2019, revealed that 'A Councillor' had been found in breach of the Code. The Beagle published the following edited extract of a determination of a Code of Conduct by an unnamed reviewer:

Note that the edited determination above DOES NOT mention the name of the Councillor and replaces the councillor's name with 'The Councillor' So what of the crime of publicly disclosing information and a Code of Conduct had been raised? The Beagle revealed that a breach was made. No Biggy. Council revealed themselves this week that there had been thirteen Codes of Conduct with three breaches found in the last year. Did the Beagle publicly disclose anything that Council didn't disclose themselves this week in their annual Code of Conduct report adopted by Councillors on Tuesday Dec 10th? You be the judge. Council revealed, in their own report last week, that there were three breaches with two determinations that directed them to be resolved "by alternate and appropriate strategies". They also revealed that where the conduct reviewer determines that the conduct investigated constitutes a breach of the code of conduct, the conduct reviewer may make one or more of the following recommendations on completion of the investigation:  that the subject person undertake any training or other education relevant to conduct giving rise to the breach  that the subject person be counselled for their conduct  that the subject person apologies to any person or organisation affected by the breach in such a time and form specified by the recommendation The only difference between Council's own report of last week and and the Beagle's revelation is that of one of the three breaches it was in regards to something said 'on social media' And the consequence of this outrageous 'revelation'? Three very senior Council staff decided they would make up their own penalty. With NO consultation with councillors, and way outside of their authority or any adopted Code, they handed down their maladroit edict. In a letter received from the ESC on December 6th, 2019 I was advised by Council’s Divisional Manager Governance & Administrative Services/Public Officer that:

“It is Council's intention to seek the Office of Local Government's consent to receive no future code of conduct complaints made by yourself, the Beagle Weekly and or any of your associated organisations/businesses.” Compare that action to the April 9th 2019 councillor (and public) endorsed Code. “12.2 Where a complainant publicly discloses information on one or more occasions about a code of conduct complaint they have made or purported to make, the general manager or their delegate MAY, with the consent of the Office, determine that the complainant is to receive no further information about their complaint and any future code of conduct complaint they make or purport to make. So I took the issue up with Council as a presentation during Public Forum Dec 10th, 2019 saying "this is way beyond the adopted repercussions of “that the complainant is to receive no further information about their complaint and any future code of conduct complaint they make or purport to make”.

I declared the staff's proposed actions as a draconian and illegitimate impost, advising that "to receive no future code of conduct complaints" had NOT been formally endorsed by the Council nor the community and was outside the intent and the Procedures for the Administration of The Model Code of Conduct for Local Councils in NSW. The formal December 6th letter, authored under delegated authority of the General Manager and written by the Council’s Public Officer, had clearly stepped over the line with Council staff (not councillors) determining a consequence that would ensure Eurobodalla Council would NOT "receive future code of conduct complaints made by yourself, the Beagle Weekly and or any of your associated organisations/businesses. This would mean that, as a rate payer, I could not lodge a Code of Conduct complaint for any breach by any official that I was aware of, nor lodge a Code of Conduct complaint as the editor of the Beagle, nor would they accept a Code of Conduct complaint on behalf of any association (such as the Tuross Head Business Owners Association or the Tuross Head Progress Assoc) that i was a member of, nor any associated business such as the South Coast Travel Guide which I own. Basically the intention of the edict, penned by Council staff, was to black ban me and anyone associated with me in making any Code of Conduct complaint. Note that the following words were crafted by Council and dispatched in a formal letter "to receive no future code of conduct complaints made by yourself, the Beagle Weekly and or any of your associated organisations/businesses." They then advised I had 28 days to give them a reason why they should not proceed. So I addressed the Councillors during last week's Public Forum session and advised them of the letter and the proposed actions. I also published my presentation in The Beagle for the community to read and Council now have that presentation on Council's website. As you might imagine I was gobsmacked that the Council staff, from the Divisional Manager Governance & Administrative Services/ Public Officer to his supervisor, the Director of Corporate and Commercial Services, and then the General Manager, would take it upon themselves to author a localised consequence well beyond any that the Councillors had adopted. This was unique; and more concerning was that only the Public Officer, his supervisor and the General Manager, Catherine Dale, were aware of it. On Monday December 9th, as required, my Public Forum presentation around the issue was provided to Council and to the Councillors to give them a day to absorb,review and question staff. During the Ordinary Council meeting the following day Divisional Manager Governance & Administrative Services/ Public Officer was questioned by Councillor Pat McGinlay. The councillor was trying to seek clarification of the staff's proposed actions in relation to the approved code. In watching the video extract below (from the Council meeting Dec 10th, 2019) it becomes evident that Divisional Manager Governance & Administrative Services/ Public Officer was unwilling to acknowledge his authoring of "to receive no future code of conduct complaints made by yourself, the Beagle Weekly and or any of your associated organisations/businesses."

VIDEO: Ordinary Meeting of Eurobodalla Council Date: December 10th 2019

Discussion around the Code of Conduct Complaints Statistics

Under MOU with Eurobodalla Shire Council Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence. read more http://bit.ly/beagleCC This brings us to the 'Sorry' letter that was forthcoming from Council two days later.

Mr Divisional Manager Governance & Administrative Services/ Public Officer, Your letter of December 6th, 2019, did NOT cause 'confusion'. It caused outage mixed with disgust. Outrage at the sheer audacity that you, as a council staff member, can make up your own rules, define your own punishments and do so with impunity under a cloak of contrived confidentiality. Disgust at your view that you might get away with it. To another this intimidation might have worked. With me you have picked the wrong recipient. Allow me to air this 'laundry' in public to an audience far larger than you may have imagined. You advised that your Dec 6th, 2019 letter: “It is Council's intention to seek the Office of Local Government's consent to receive no future code of conduct complaints made by yourself, the Beagle Weekly and or any of your associated organisations/businesses.” You gave me 28 days to make a submission on why Council should not proceed with the next steps. You caused considerable and undue angst that, by association, I was now a liability to any organisation I was a member of. By such association this would require my advising these organisations and stepping down from my committee duties. I had little, if any option, but to take the edict of your letter to the councillors via Public Forum on December 10th, 2019 and advise them that YOU, your immediate supervisor, and the General Manager, Catherine Dale, had acted well outside of your collective authorities. At that Council meeting you had the opportunity to explain, to apologise, and to rescind your threat of consequence of "to receive no future code of conduct complaints made by yourself, the Beagle Weekly and or any of your associated organisations/businesses " yet you failed to do so. In fact you failed to recognise any wrong doing at all when questioned during the Ordinary Council meeting of December 10th, 2019 by Councillor McGinlay. Nor did you appear to recognise and admit to the excessive consequences you had clearly authored in your December 6th letter. To an outsider watching the questioning it almost appeared as if you weren't aware of what had been written under your signature. On review of your intended consequences, as clearly authored by yourself, under delegated authority of the General Manager, you sir, may have breached the Model Code of Conduct as I consider, by your actions, that you have conducted yourself in a manner that:

a) has brought the council and other council officials into disrepute b) is contrary to statutory requirements or the council’s administrative requirements or policies c) is improper and unethical d) is an abuse of power e) has caused, comprised and involved intimidation and g) constitutes harassment or bullying behaviour under this code, as well as being unlawfully discriminatory. Your actions, your Dec 6th correspondence, the video evidence of your response to questions during the Ordinary Council meeting of December 10th, 2019 and your subsequent Dec 12th correspondence that offers no acceptable apology will now be forwarded to the Office of Local Government for their own determination of whether you, your supervisor or the General Manager breached any Model Code of Conduct. Keep in mind that this is a submission, as you have formally requested, and NOT a Code of Conduct complaint. As such I have not breached anything that publicly discloses information on one or more occasions about a code of conduct complaint I have made or might purport to make. As for why I should no longer receive any further information about my Code of Conduct complaints and any future code of conduct complaints I might make or purport to make in regards to what was published in the Beagle and what was forthcoming from the annual, very public, Code of Conduct report was that an unnamed councillor was found in breach by an action ON SOCIAL MEDIA. If, by that revelation, you chose to open the gates of Hell and bring down the screaming demons to rip at my flesh and to banish me forever so that my voice will never again be heard to bring question to Council and how they measure against the Local Government Act, Council policies and guidelines, then I am happy to expose Eurobodalla Council for the petty, small minded bureaucrats they have become. I now welcome the official response from the Office of Local Government on this original heavy-handed deliberation that appears now to be magically withdrawn. I look forward to Council providing the OLG with this formal submission and look forward to their determinations in regards to their seeking the prescribed consequences of my alleged breach of confidentiality around Code of Conduct complaints. I also look forward to you, as Council, advising the OLG that I told you very clearly to go and get truely stuffed and to locate your most insincere apology of what can only be considered a monumental and embarrassing draconian, bureaucratic cock up where the sun doesn't shine. To consider that three senior staff have orchestrated a consequence well beyond any adopted Policy and then had the audacity to attempt to go through with it without any consultation with councillors speaks volumes of the contempt the Eurobodalla Council senior staff have of the councillors an the general public. This is an opportunity to bring them to account however it is already inevitable that they will be chastised, if at all. Eurobodalla Council has much to be embarrassed by over this issue and the single line, ingenuous apology just doesn't cut it. best regards Lei Parker

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