Late last week we published Part 1 of a story that looked at two code of conduct cases relating to one current Councillor running for re-election that we believed on the copious documentation we had raised a number of serious concerns and questions.
By The Editor
We believe the questions raised in Part 1 now need to be looked at.
Q1: How do the findings in the two code of conduct cases looked at compares to a other actions taken against Councillors recently?
A: The Councillor, who posed questions to the CHCC Planning Department
In mid-to late 2019 a Councillor, opposed to the proposed CCS in Gordon Street, approached members of the CHCC Planning Department to inquire about issues surrounding a contentious DA that has been the subject of much coverage here at CCO.
After the discussion, which we understand was brief, the same member of the Department reported the interaction to management above them. We understand that reports of the discussion escalated up through CHCC management.
It would appear, as a result, encouragement was given to the taking of a Code of Conduct against the Councillor.
We understand that Train Reaction were again the investigator/report handler of the Code of Conduct. The Councillor argued in their defence that they were merely inquiring about the issues CHCC saw with the DA on behalf of a resident and ratepayer. Although the Councillor admitted that perhaps speaking to a Senior Manager first may have been a better way to have approached the issue.
We are informed that the recommendation from Train Reaction was that the Councillor should be reported to ICAC with a recommendation ICAC then investigate the Councillor in question.
In the end this did not happen because using clauses under the Code of Conduct Councillors reviewed the Code of Conduct report and ruled that the proposed sanctions were too severe in the circumstances and that the Councillor should merely apologise to affected staff.
Interestingly, CCO has been unable so far to find evidence of any other code of conduct findings being referred to Councillors, not least those looked at in Part 1 of this story.
The clauses are listed as 7.46-7.61 in the OLG model code of conduct.
B: The Four Councillors who ‘walked out’
This does not just relate to a code of conduct. Rather it also more importantly pertains to a formal complaint to the Office of Local Government by senior CHCC Management and a small number of Councillors.
The complaint was that the four Councillors (pictured in the lead photo), also all opposed to the CCS in Gordon Street, had caused harm to Council in numerous ways by doing so. The complaint resulted in an OLG ruling that the four Councillors in question have two months Council fees deducted.
CCO understands that this ruling may be the subject of appeal and that two other Councillors may be additionally implicated as a result.
CCO believes when comparing the two cases from Part 1 to those highlighted above that many lay people would conclude different outcomes and strategies may be at play against those who have opposed the CCS/YAM since mid-2019.
Q2: Has justice been seen to be done and is the code of conduct process transparent as practiced?
We believe when looking at the evidence presented many would conclude that the answer to this question would be ‘No’.
In fact we are of the view that it reinforces the point we made in an earlier editorial that the process has become ‘weaponised’. Not just at the CHCC and not just by any one side either.
This is surely not what the drafters of the Model Code of Conduct intended?
Q3: Can code of conduct determinations be appealed and if so how?
We have been told several parties to Codes of conduct have asked this and been told an appeal can only be done on the basis the process was wrong and that such an appeal must be made to the Office of Local Government.
Perhaps the matter pertaining to Code of Conduct review decisions being presented to full council mentioned above might be an avenue in this regard?
Q4: How is it an investigator gets to investigate and decide on a case which includes centrally something they themselves authored earlier? Do ‘conflict of interest’ arguments arise?
CCO suspects strongly again that the average resident or ratepayer would think the answer to the above two questions would be; (i) “that doesn’t sound appropriate in our opinion” and (ii) “yes, quite possibly”. In that order.
Can you see now why CCO has had concerns about an increasing lack of transparency at the Coffs Harbour City Council have become ever more of concern over recent years?