I would like to thank the Echo for shining some light on the inconsistencies of Byron Shire Council’s Code of Conduct (Echo 13/1). Having extensive personal experience of code play as a councillor and having advised Angela Dunlop, the volunteer in this matter, I feel there is more to be said.
Cr Ibrahim clearly breached the code by contacting a tender applicant prior to a contract being signed. He had a code violation brought against him, not by the GM but by a member of the community. As a result he had his case assessed by a council-paid ‘examiner’ with all the checks and protections afforded by the code. He walked away with a recommendation of, ‘no further action’.
On the other hand a volunteer Angela Dunlop, not getting answers from council, approached a contractor for information (after the contract had been let) in the hope that as manager of SGB community centre she could continue doing her job. The GM (Mr Ken Gainger) instead of ringing Angela and offering to facilitate the information his staff was not supplying slapped her with a code of conduct charge, ‘improper or unethical conduct and/or abuse of power’.
Angela wrote back refuting the GM’s version of events, asked questions and requested an interview as she thought the code stipulated. Mr Gainger did not respond for 11 weeks and then sent a letter, ‘guilty as charged, formal penalty of “censure” imposed’.
Detailed complaints to the Office of Local Government and the Ombudsman produced the ‘helpful’ advice, that while volunteers were subject to the same penalties as councillors and staff they did not enjoy the same protections under the code. In other words volunteers were completely in the hands of the GM and if they didn’t like it they could contact their local member.
Mr Gainger was so pleased with his work that he failed to mention, in his annual code of conduct report to council, that he had officially censured a volunteer.
Several councillors have been aware of these events but have sat on their hands, hopefully they will now ask some questions.
Tom Tabart, Bangalow