Two recent cases involving code of conduct complaints at Byron Shire Council– one against a volunteer and one against a councillor – have revealed a lack of understanding of the code as well as a lack of clarity with the code itself.
A volunteer tasked with helping the recent South Golden Beach community hall renovations was ‘censured’ by council’s general manager Ken Gainger after she made contact with the building contractor without council’s permission.
And while council said Angela Dunlop’s efforts and contributions were ‘greatly appreciated and acknowledged,’ Ms Dunlop said the response was unfair and asked for a review by the NSW Ombudsman.
Claiming ‘delays and poor communication from council staff,’ Ms Dunlop maintained that ‘we had been approached by numerous prospective clients who were interested in hiring the hall for one-off events, but owing to the uncertainty of the commencement date, we were unable to guarantee that the hall would be available.’
The Echo understands that after the building contract was signed, Ms Dunlop disregarded a written direction not to contact the builder.
And despite conduct ‘briefing’, she told general manager Ken Gainger, ‘I am not aware of any direction from council to our committee to not make contact with the builders. I believe the claims of misconduct to be spurious.’
Ms Dunlop also questioned a possible conflict of interest occurring where the general manager ‘conducts any investigation involving a perceived failure of management process.’
The NSW Ombudsman’s office replied to Ms Dunlop and said that they were satisfied the general manager acted in accordance with the code.
As for Ms Dunlop’s concerns that the code of conduct applied ‘in different ways to committee members and elected councillors and staff,’ inquiries and assessments officer Daniel Hill said, ‘it is open to you to lobby your elected representatives and relevant ministers if you think changes should be made.’
Similar uncertainty surrounds a complaint against Cr Sol Ibrahim after he contacted an associate of a tenderer to council regarding ‘some engineering aspects’ of the Belongil rock wall project.
Reviewer Gary Faulks replied to Byron Resident’s Group’s Cate Coorey’s complaint, saying, ‘Cr Ibrahim acknowledges that he attended a code of conduct course in Lismore but, despite this, was unaware of many aspects of the code.’
Mr Faulks said there was ‘incomplete understanding and knowledge of the requirements of the Byron [Council’s] code of conduct [policy]’, but regarded Cr Ibrahim’s intention was ‘progressing the whole issue, as well as securing cost and time savings for the project.’
While Mr Faulks advised he would not take further action owing to there being ‘no adverse consequence for council,’ he did acknowledge that ‘further training for Cr Ibrahim (and probably other councillors) regarding the council codes and policies is something that should be considered.’