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Investigating the slew of Code of Conduct complaints against Newcastle Independent councillor Kath Elliott | Newcastle Herald

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I HAD intended today’s column to look at the censoring of controversial COVID views by Facebook and the other digital giants, but then came news on Wednesday that Newcastle councillor Kath Elliott had been suspended as a councillor for six weeks by the Office of Local Government (OLG). The COVID censorship question won’t go away, but with council elections just seven weeks away, on Saturday, December 4, I thought I would have a look at what was going on here. In weighing up whether or not I should write about this, I was also reminded that I had written four weeks ago about Cr Elliott’s former colleague Cr Allan Robinson, who announced he was resigning from the Independents team of Cr Elliott and Cr John Church because he didn’t want to see “them punished because of me”. IN THE NEWS: Lest my choice of subject matter be interpreted as some sort of anti-Labor push, I can only say that if it was the Independents calling on a Labor councillor to resign in the way Labor called this week for Cr Elliott to go, I would be writing the same column, but with the shirts reversed. So let’s start. On Wednesday, the Newcastle Herald’s front page carried a piece from my colleague Michael Parris reporting the details of Cr Elliott’s suspension. Essentially, she had been suspended for providing the media with a copy of an investigator’s report written about her after a Code of Conduct complaint by another councillor. Herald readers will be aware that Code of Conduct complaints have featured in a number of stories since this council took office in September 2017. Two in particular involving Cr Elliott attracted public attention. One successful complaint involved Cr Elliott’s language toward council chief executive Jeremy Bath during a closed planning session at City Hall in early 2020. RELATED READING: The other successful complaint was for Cr Elliott breaching council confidentiality by telling the media the annual rent on the council’s new offices – a raging controversy at the time – was “about $3 million a year”. The Code of Conduct that Cr Elliott breached can be downloaded from the council website. It runs to 43 pages based on – but not exactly the same as – a model code provided by the OLG. As well as the code for councillors, there two other codes – one for staff and the other for “council committee members, delegates of council and council advisers”. These three are “policy” documents. A fourth, a “procedure” covers the administration of the code, over 41 pages From one perspective, the councillor code of conduct is a good document that provides very detailed guidelines – prescriptions even – about what a councillor can or can’t do. And to its credit, Part 9 – “Maintaining the Integrity of the Code” – has numerous prohibitions on making complaints “for an improper purpose”: in other words “trivial, frivolous (or) vexatious complaints, or complaints “not made in good faith” or otherwise lacking merit. It lists nine types of improper complaints, starting with those “made substantially” to “bully, intimidate or harass another council official” or to “damage another council official’s reputation”. The term “council official” includes elected councillors. Ratepayers would certainly hope that no “improper” complaints are lodged, especially as council figures show it cost $46,122 to investigate four complaints. As I mentioned earlier, Cr Elliott had two successful complaints lodged against her. But the OLG’s case against her talks of at “least 12 such” matters, with some of these containing “multiple complaints”. EARLIER HERALD REPORTS: The “disciplinary decision” against Cr Elliott was published online by the OLG last Friday and is one of nine so far in 2021, statewide. A very active year, it seems, given that the website lists only 14 previous decisions dating back to 2012. Locally, Jeremy Bath said that the number of Code of Conduct complaints at Newcastle – as opposed to OLG investigations – was “similar” to previous years. To go back to the other Code complaints against Cr Elliott, if only two succeeded, did that mean the other 10 or more failed? I rang Cr Elliott to ask about the other complaints, but she pointed out, the matter is bound in confidentiality. So I emailed Jeremy Bath on Thursday night, wanting to know, in so many words, how many complaints were out there? How many succeeded? How many failed? Could we be told who had lodged complaints? And so on. HERALD EDITORIALS: He, too, said that it would be a breach of the Code for him to reveal some of what I wanted, including the identity of those councillors complaining, and those complained about. This, in my opinion, is important information. Cr Elliott says the Code is being used by Labor as a political weapon. And she is appealing the decision to suspend her by lodging a case in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The day Cr Elliott’s suspension broke, Labor were quick off the mark with an 1150-word media release – with prerecorded audio – calling on Cr Church to sack her from the Independents. Cr Elliott also believes the council is wrong in suspending her without fees, because the OLG decision against her cites Section 440 I(2)(g) of the Local Government Act, while suspension “without fee or other remuneration” is the next sub-clause, (h). Mr Bath, however, says the OLG has “validated” the no-pay decision. Either way, we’re in for a combative Newcastle council election. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:

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Investigating the slew of Code of Conduct complaints against Newcastle Independent councillor Kath Elliott | Newcastle Herald Source link Investigating the slew of Code of Conduct complaints against Newcastle Independent councillor Kath Elliott | Newcastle Herald

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