Friday, 6 June 2014

Error of judgement leaves Clarence Valley Council's reputation in the wind

It has been known for some weeks now that there was a document, filed as part of its 2013 annual Code of Conduct Complaints Report, being displayed on Clarence Valley Council’s own website which appeared to suggest that an unnamed councillor had been found to have breached council’s Code of Conduct and that investigating this alleged breach had cost council $14,900.

This same council document is also permanently itemised by Google’s search engine, linked to on local social media and displayed on Scribd.

Even the most cursory of investigations quickly established a link between it and an article in The Daily Examiner on 18 October 2013 titled Review of conflict claim cost $14,900.

Cr. Andrew Baker currently has a motion before Clarence Valley Council’s Governance & Corporate Committee, which in part seeks an apology from the most senior council officer for allowing publication of incorrect information concerning the outcome of a code of conduct complaint.

An excerpt from Item 15.011/14, in Clarence Valley Council’s Governance & Corporate Committee business paper of 10 June 2014 at Page 56, clearly demonstrates the attitude being taken by management to its own error of judgement in allowing publication:


1. The report to Council’s Governance and Corporate Committee on 12 November 2013, item 14.167/13 titled Code of Conduct Complaints Report 2012/13, correctly summarises the complaints and dealings that have occurred in relation to Council’s Code of Conduct for the period.

2. The statistical document for submission to the Office of Local Government however had some clerical errors in it.

3. The statistical return is a numerical summary only and does not mention any names or refer to any specific matter or investigation.

4. The statistical document was forwarded as required to the Office of Local Government.

5. The Office of Local Government has not yet published the collective statistics for NSW.

6. The Office of Local Government has been advised of the errors and an amended statistical return has been provided.

7. Council has been advised by the Office of Local Government that the correct statistical information has been now included in their records.

8. The Office of Local Government in the near future is expected to publish the collective statistics for Code of Conduct complaints which will include the correct statistics for Clarence Valley Council.

9. A search of local media has failed to identify where this issue has been published or reported.

10. I consider that this matter is now resolved.

It is also important for Councillors to be aware of their responsibility under Part 8 of the Code of Conduct (“the Code”). Part 8 relates to the importance of preserving the integrity of the Code.
Clause 8.1 of the Code expressly states:

You must not conduct yourself in a manner that is likely to undermine confidence in the integrity of this code or its administration.

In effect, this means that if a Councillor believes a breach of the code may have occurred, they have an obligation to make a formal complaint so the matter can be assessed and administered according to the code’s guidelines. Any different action has the potential to deny the code’s fundamental principles of fairness and equity, and could be in breach of Part 8.

Point (2) of the proposed motion includes the wording “the most senior Council officer responsible for the errors in reporting, described in part 1 of this motion, be invited to include an apology to Councillors….”. A motion seeking an apology could be viewed as an attempt to impose a penalty against an officer for an alleged but unproven wrongdoing. In the absence of proper due process, such a motion would be denial of natural justice as well as procedural fairness and equity, as detailed in Part 3 of the Code. As such a Council resolution containing such a statement without correct process in accordance with the Code being afforded may give rise to a complaint against those voting for the motion for failing in their obligations in accordance with Part 8.

Scott Greensill

It could also still be found on the Google search engine index:

As well as remaining on social media here and here as a par by this blog.

Despite these numerous published mentions, Clarence Valley Council’s General Manager appears to think that informing the Division of Local Government that it needed to emend its copy of the document is the only action required.

He considers “that this matter is now resolved”.

So it seems that this document published separately from the 16 October 2012 Resolution 13.180/12 (therefore allowing no context and suggestive of wrong doing on the part of an unnamed councillor) is to remain permanently uncorrected as part of council’s own electronic records displayed online and, remain easily available on the Internet to anyone around the world to potentially misinterpret.

What a strange and unsatisfactory way to resolve this matter. 

At the very least the General Manger should emend council’s own records and then seek the advice of council’s website administrator as to how to permanently remove all traces of the offending document from the Internet.

As Clarence Valley Council’s most senior officer he should also give serious consideration to apologising for a situation created on his watch.


Anonymous said...

Am I reading this right? Surely the GM is not threatening councilors who vote for the motion?

clarencegirl said...


I honestly don't know what the intention is behind reference to Part 8.

However, it is interesting that one situation anticipated in the Code of Conduct is:
3.10 For the purposes of clause 3.9, a binding caucus vote is a process whereby a group of councillors are compelled by a threat of disciplinary or other adverse action to comply with a predetermined position on a matter before the council or committee irrespective of the personal views of individual members of the group on the merits of the matter before the council or committee.

clarencegirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
clarencegirl said...

Sorry, I 'stuttered' and accidentally posted the same comment twice, hence the deleted comment above.