PORT Stephens Council has thumbed its nose at the Office of Local Government and refused to apologise to a councillor incorrectly criticised after a code of conduct review.
Councillor Geoff Dingle said he was disappointed but not surprised when a majority of councillors, led by mayor Bruce MacKenzie, deferred an OLG recommendation to overturn sanctions against Cr Dingle that flowed from the review. A majority of councillors instead voted in a confidential meeting to seek a supplementary report from the code of conduct reviewer whose original findings were found to be not based on evidence.
“They’re not satisfied with the umpire’s decision so they want to have another go at it,” said Cr Dingle, who was devastated when a damning, but incorrect, code of conduct report was leaked to the media in August alleging he had taken photos of the children of a businessman at the centre of complaints over a Medowie timber business.
In December Office of Local Government acting chief executive Tim Hurst found there were no grounds for finding Cr Dingle had been “improper and unethical” or was involved in “intimidation and harassment” by taking the photos, and recommended the council rescind its decision directing Cr Dingle to apologise to the family.
Mr Hurst found code of conduct reviewer Monica Kelly, of Prevention Partners NSW, had “compounded” a “deficiency” in the finding by appearing not to consider evidence supporting Cr Dingle’s argument that he had been responding to significant and long-standing complaints about the timber business.
John Donahoo was one of many Port Stephens residents who attended a meeting this week to support Cr Dingle, saying he believed the councillor was being “railroaded by the council and taunted most unfairly”, and deserved an apology.
“Clearly they are not acting reasonably,” Mr Donahoo said.
Cr Dingle has lodged a further complaint with the Office of Local Government over the handling of a second code of conduct complaint referred to Ms Kelly by the council, after his solicitor requested deferring the matter until associated legal action was finalised.
In an email to Cr Dingle, Ms Kelly wrote that “nothing in the Code of Conduct nor its associated Procedure compels me to deal with your solicitors, nor do I feel so inclined. Accordingly, I will not respond to the three letters received today”.
In his complaint to the OLG Cr Dingle argued clause 8.14 of the code of conduct noted a reviewer “must consider all written and oral submissions made to them in relation to the matter”.
Ms Kelly declined to comment when contacted.