A state-government investigation into a complaint against Cr Rose Wanchap was tabled at last week’s Byron Shire Council meeting, resulting in her being censured by her fellow councillors for breaching the Code of Conduct policy.
Held in confidential session in the afternoon, the mayor used his casting vote to support a motion which says she failed to ‘acknowledge and declare a significant non-pecuniary conflict of interests… thereby failing to manage the conflict in accordance with the Code of Conduct.’
The motion also says the matter will ‘be referred to the division for further action under the misconduct provisions of the Act.’
Echonetdaily understands the ‘division’ is the office of local government, while a first- time ‘censure’ has no ramifications or consequences.
The original complaint, which is said to be 150 pages long, is by David Beattie from the Nungkari Treatment Centre, based in Myocum.
It was taken seriously enough to be reviewed by the Office of Local Government, which reported that Cr Wanchap ‘may have had a non-pecuniary conflict of interest’ when she voted on a DA approval.
Echonetdaily understands that the code of conduct complaint relates to a possible conflict of interest with Cr Wanchap’s potential investment in a competing health centre.
At the October 1, 2015 council meeting, Cr Wanchap abstained on voting on a DA for Nungkari Treatment Centre owing to a potential pecuniary interest.
Yet when the original DA was approved on May 1, 2014, Cr Wanchap voted against the motion, which subsequently sparked the complaint by Mr Beattie.
Echonetdaily asked Cr Wanchap last year whether she operated a health facility as of her voting on May 1, 2015.
Cr Wanchap replied at the time, ‘It is a grey area since it is not my facility. It is owned by a member of my family and they only purchased it a few months ago so there was no pecuniary interest at that time.’
‘Nor is there probably an interest now, but I felt it was better to be on the safe side.’
During morning public access, mayor Simon Richardson insisted councillors treat the matter as confidential, and attempted to limit discussion.
But it was largely to no avail; a testy Crs Di Woods and Chris Cubis accused Mr Beattie of getting ‘coaching’ over the complaint, and questioned why he would pursue the issue given he was awarded the DA for his treatment centre anyway.
Mr Beattie told the chamber he wanted the confidential report made public.
‘If this council wants to be held in esteem by the community, and have its integrity maintained, then they will make this matter public. And they will take relevant action to redress these matters. In our society today, we don’t have enough of that…’
Cr Sol Ibrahim then attempted to wedge Mr Beattie over ‘following the law’ owing to Mr Beattie wanting the document to be made public.
Cr Ibrahim said, ‘Do you believe personally, and on behalf of the community, that the community should respect the law in terms of what can and can’t be made public?’
Mr Beattie replied it was a good question. ‘In this instance, the issue has been investigated and a report has been presented to council.
‘Had they been just allegations, I think confidentiality should apply. [But] in this instance it is [more than allegations].
So how legally binding are confidential report?
Echonetdaily asked council’s legal services co-ordinator Ralph James if there is there a ‘law’ that would be broken by releasing the confidential report, or is it simply a policy.
He replied, ‘The report of the Code of Conduct reviewer was received and considered by council in confidential session.’
‘Council’s resolution, as per the minutes, is public. Confidentiality is applied as per council’s Code of Conduct and Procedures for the Administration of Council’s Code of Conduct – both of which are policies.
‘[It] is a matter for any person who is not subject to Council’s Code of Conduct.’