It has emerged that Byron Shire mayor Jan Barham has been accused of code of conduct breaches by Council staff.
In response, Cr Barham has slapped general manager Graeme Faulkner with a complaint to the local government authority.
And the cost of legal fees to ratepayers? $18,279.10 to date.
A report on the matter has been prepared by Sydney lawyer Kath Roach after another Sydney lawyer stood aside.
The report’s conclusion is described by two sentences, saying the allegations are ‘not sustained’ and it has ‘no recommendations’ in regards to further action. No mention of the report’s outcome is included within Council staff notes in the upcoming agenda, and it was not marked confidential.
The staff notes also say that the initial complaint ‘is one of three complaints made by female staff members… with two of those complaints having been subsequently withdrawn’.
GM and mayor embroiled
The complaint against the general manager was lodged with the Department of Local Government by solicitors acting on behalf of Cr Barham.
Additionally, Cr Barham has requested reimbursement of $4,471 spent on solicitors to defend code of conduct complaints made against her.
Fellow Greens councillor Tom Tabart has weighed in to the fray, telling Echonetdaily that a complaint was originally ‘made by a senior manager on behalf of an administrative officer upset by the mayor’s reaction to the selection of Ed Ahern as Citizen of the Year in 2011’.
Additionally he claims Council’s agenda notes on the current code of conduct review read more like comment than background notes. ‘It includes largely irrelevant material and editorial comment generally pejorative to the councillor complained against,’ Cr Tabart says.
Lawyer stood aside
What is irrelevant [relevant?], however, is the general manager’s concern – tabled within the agenda – that he ‘has not been advised as to the detail of the complaint or the outcome of the investigation and is concerned that such action could be perceived as intimidation relating to his decision to refer this matter for independent investigation’.
But perhaps the most damning claim is that the lawyer’s report was delayed by a complaint to the ombudsman by the mayor.
Cr Tabart says evidence before the reviewer was withheld from Cr Barham and that ‘correspondence on this was not included in the staff report’.
‘The GM continues to get away with this behaviour – some councillors are cheering him on and others are too ill-informed or gutless to stand up.’
However, Mr Faulkner told Echonetdaily, however, ‘Council has no knowledge of any claim about how evidence that was before the reviewer was handled, or of the substance of any complaint to the ombudsman’.
Code under review
Byron Shire Council is not alone with claims that the code of conduct is being misused.
It is currently being reviewed by the state government for the second time in six years. Minister for local government, Don Page, said the review of the code was because of several incidents of ‘inappropriate’ use recently. The government is expected to draft legislation changing the code soon.
Last year, Liberals MLC Marie Ficarra in parliament accused Tweed Shire Council general manager Mike Rayner and Tweed Cr Dot Holdom of using the code in a campaign of vilification and politically motivated complaints against former mayor Joan van Lieshout. Tweed Greens Cr Katie Milne also was subject to what she said was politically motivated code of conduct complaints against her which were not sustained.
Council will meet on Thursday 22 March. It could well be an entertaining public meeting with lots of complaining.