MORE than $30,000 of ratepayers’ money has been spent by Kingston Council this year to pay independent arbiters to investigate code of conduct complaints by councillors about fellow councillors.
It was revealed at the 23 October public council meeting that a statement on a pre-election campaign flyer distributed by Cr Rosemary West last year was found to have breached the councillor code of conduct after an investigation by an arbiter hired by council.
It was one of several complaints lodged by Cr Geoff Gledhill, the Liberal candidate for Mordialloc at next year’s state election, about fellow Central ward Cr Rosemary West’s election flyer and comments made by Cr West on social media.
Two arbiters in two separate reports investigated comments made by Cr West about Cr Gledhill’s voting on council’s policy related to protecting green wedge areas from inappropriate development and the contentious debate about narrowing Beach Rd to build the Mentone to Mordialloc section of the Bay Trail.
Councillors discussed the arbiters’ reports at the latest public council meeting held on Monday 23 October.
Comments made by Cr West on Facebook about the Bay Trail project were found to not be in breach of the council’s councillor code of conduct by barrister Ragu Appudurai.
A statement on Cr West’s election campaign flyer about voting on green wedge matters during the previous four-year council term was in breach of the code, according to arbiter Peter Harris.
A majority of councillors backed Cr West’s call at the October council meeting to make both arbiters’ reports public.
Several councillors at the meeting criticised the lengthy amount of time it had taken to investigate the complaints and called on the complaints process to be streamlined.
The investigations began in December last year and were finalised this month.
Cr Ron Brownlees said: “I think it is outrageous that it should take so long to resolve something when council is spending thousands of dollars to pay the professionals to get an outcome and do the investigations.”
Cr Steve Staikos and both Cr West and Cr Gledhill also voiced dissatisfaction at the lengthy complaints handling process.
“The time taken with these matters, I can only describe it as ‘ridiculous’,” Cr Gledhill said. “It’s not fair on everyone involved.”
Crs West, Staikos, Georgina Oxley and Ron Brownlees voted at the meeting to release both reports by the arbiters.
The motion also indicated Cr West need not make a formal apology to Cr Gledhill over the statement on the flyer found to have breached the code of conduct.
Crs Bearsley, Gledhill, Tamara Barth and George Hua abstained from voting.
The mayor Cr David Eden did not indicate how he voted. No division calling for councillors’ votes to recorded in the meeting minutes was made.
“I never expected her [Cr West] to say sorry because it would be like me trying to speak Aztec or something like that,” Cr Gledhill said at the meeting.
Cr West expressed discontent with the arbiter’s report that found she breached the councillor code of conduct.
“If I were to apologise then I would have to apologise for telling the truth.”
Cr Bearsley had suggested at the public council meeting that Cr West be ordered by fellow councillors to make an apology to Cr Gledhill and be banned from attending two monthly council meetings.
Cr Gledhill said he would introduce a notice of motion at November’s council meeting asking councillors to vote to publicly release previous code of conduct investigation reports including a report by consultants STOPline in 2013.
That report found bullying allegations by a council officer against Crs West, Staikos and then councillor Trevor Shewan lodged before 2012 council elections were “unsubstantiated”.
Earlier this year two separate code of conduct complaints by Cr West about Cr Brownlees and Cr Gledhill were found to be unsubstantiated.
The Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) also found this year that Cr Brownlees had no case to answer over voting on green wedge planning matters after Cr West lodged a complaint to IBAC.
The latest two arbiters’ reports triggered by Cr Gledhill’s complaints about Cr West cost ratepayers $19,250 bringing the total bill for code of conduct investigations to $34,650 this year.
Council corporate services general manager Paul Franklin confirmed councillors are allowed to vote on internal disputes despite being party to complaints under an exemption in the Local Government Act.