Saturday, December 15, 2018

Councillors slam public behaviour at annual meeting

The crowded venue for the council's annual general meeting.
SEVERAL councillors have taken to social media to decry what they describe as bullying, intimidation and bad language in the public gallery at Thursday night's Derwent Valley Council annual general meeting. Mayor Ben Shaw described the situation as a "line in the sand" moment, calling for increased powers to deal with "unruly people at meetings", and saying he would introduce new "house rules" next month.

With 29 people in the public gallery, and seven councillors and four council staff present, the annual general meeting had a bumpy start when voters declined to endorse the minutes of last year's AGM as an accurate report, and voted against the adoption of the council's annual report.

A motion of no-confidence in the council looked likely to pass until it was explained that the number of people who abstained from voting would be added to the "no" votes, in accordance with Local Government rules, resulting in the motion failing by three votes. Six councillors had voted against the motion, which some saw as a conflict of interest. Some in the gallery erupted, leading to an explanation of the voting process and a repeat of the vote, producing the same result.

The meeting lasted about 45 minutes and the audio recording is expected to be made available on the council website early next week.

Cr Rachel Power posted a video on social media yesterday afternoon, saying there was clear evidence of bullying of councillors and council staff at the AGM and the monthly meeting that followed. She said there was also bullying of people in the public gallery. In separate comments, Cr Power said she had received written permission to speak publicly about the issue.

Mayor Shaw and deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove both endorsed Cr Power's remarks online. Cr Cosgrove had also made a Facebook post during the council meetings, saying: "FINALLY!!! The rumour circulating that the council gave me as the operator of the New Norfolk market $30,000 cash (and to train me) has been publicly shut down!! Also a motion of no confidence in this council was NOT carried!! Now let’s get on to focusing on the positives and what we were elected to do!!"

Cr Power's Facebook post.
In her video, Cr Power said she did not accept bullying, and said "what happened" in the council meetings on Thursday night was "completely unacceptable behaviour". "As a council group we've discussed this and we all agree that this is not going to happen," Cr Power said.

"So there is a line in the sand that's been drawn. We want your communication. We want your engagement and we want you to speak with us. But we don't accept name calling. We don't accept bad language and we certainly don't accept the references that were coming out last night. There was clear bullying, not just of councillors and council staff, but also of other people who didn't vote the way the people wanted them to."

Cr Power's remarks have been questioned by several people who attended the meeting, including businesswoman Marita Rose who said it was the first council meeting she had been to. "It was interesting, entertaining, educational. I didn’t witness bullying, I witnessed passionate disenchanted members of the valley, wanting answers and they often didn't get answers. I encourage more community members to attend," she said.

Responding to former councillor Wayne Shoobridge's request to define the bullying she had observed, Cr Power said she was surprised Mr Shoobridge didn't hear it, "as it was within less than a metre from you. I witnessed one member of the gallery intimidate another into voting a certain way. I heard the mayor, other councillors and staff called names ... I witnessed people trying to have a say and being shouted down by others. I witnessed language that does not belong in council chambers. I witnessed people attempting to smear people's reputations. I witnessed members of the gallery being sworn at and called names, and also councillors and the mayor. One of the people from the gallery has stated to me in her 70 years she has never been called a c***. If you don't define that as bullying then perhaps you need to redefine your definition," Cr Power said.

Another former councillor and former council employee, Chris Lester, said it was "fair and reasonable" for ratepayers and members of the public to question council on issues of concern to them. "For instance, I asked questions about whether council was expending ratepayers' money on private enterprise. Are those questions unreasonable? I think not."

Commenting about Cr Power's video, mayor Ben Shaw said the behaviour described by Cr Power had been around for too long and councillors had been expected to just "deal with it." "Rachel and all of my councillors have my full support in this message and this is a line-in-the-sand moment," he said. "On behalf of my council group [and] our staff, we are not putting up with abuse, intimidation and bullying any more."

Cr Ben Shaw
"I am calling on the minister, the director and the LGAT to come up with some methods to help deal with these issues. Councillors have no recourse for action when bullied, harassed ... when disgusting lies are made up about them they are just supposed to sit silently and wait for it to blow over. There was a clear message given to me by our newly-elected members last night  and that was they will not tolerate this behaviour at our meetings. And I am backing them 100% with some new house rules in meetings to be introduced in January.

"We want a safe, respectful place for our community to air questions and for our councillors to carry out their duties in a fair and safe environment. We welcome all questions, criticism and any other conversations at council but it needs to be in a respectful manner. With a brand new communication plan coming forward we will get better. A line is drawn and a new era for council is coming."

Responding to Cr Cosgrove's Facebook post about the failure of the no-confidence motion, Cr Shaw said the council was never at any risk. "It’s even sillier that the people doing it actually thought that it would throw council out," he said. "Even if it was passed there is no steps after that apart from we would have 'noted' the motion from the floor and moved on anyway. We are democratically elected, 10 people can not throw the council out by simply saying they don’t want you anymore ... especially when two of them had sour grapes from losing the election."

Cr Cosgrove added: "If the behaviour of some in the public gallery last night was not so disgusting I would say it was simply comical!"

Cr Shaw said he wished councillors could just get on with the job. "I’ll be writing to the minister and the director ... asking for stronger powers when dealing with unruly people at meetings. It’s beyond a joke, some of the behaviour."

Cr Cosgrove "liked" a remark by a Facebook commentator who said: "What is wrong with people up there," which drew the response: "It’s a known area for dense populations of medically diagnosed mental health problems, drug use and low socioeconomics. This doesn’t define the whole area, but it certainly puts a veil over the great people who also live there," from another commentator.

In her video, Cr Power said she did not ever want to see a repeat of what she witnessed in the meetings on Thursday night. "There are smart people in our community who have very very valid points. But you can get your point across without having to be nasty and without having to make general members of the public feel uncomfortable, let alone councillors who were doing a job, for something that they love, for a passion, and for a community that they want to serve, because if they didn't want to serve the community they wouldn't be elected."

Cr Power said the councillors had been elected by more than 3000 people of the Derwent Valley community. "That's the people who we work for, not just for the five people who caused an amazing uproar and the other 20-odd who encouraged it," she said. "It was not fair on anybody let alone yourselves because your point of view doesn't get clearly communicated. All we could hear ... was the bad language the derogatory terms and words that I certainly don't want to hear in a council context ever ever again. It is absolutely not OK.

"If you've got a problem that's not being addressed, there's ways to have it addressed. Turning up and abusing council members, council staff, and making people feel generally uncomfortable doesn't get your point across and doesn't get the solution that you're seeking. I want to help my community but I can't do that if all I'm doing is putting out fires and making my family feel safe.

"So please, the communication offers are there, and there's gunna be more ways that you can communicate with council, not just at council meetings. The doors are opening up and we're working hard to make sure that that's happening. You know what, we've been in there for less than two months, so give us some time to get things right. Everyone knows it takes time to do the job right. So let's get the job done and stop the ridiculous behaviour."

Cr Power did not respond to a request from the New Norfolk News for additional information about the council's response to the issues she has raised.

13 comments:

  1. Councilors vent spleens, how dare voters interact with us!
    Stop hiding behind closed doors.

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  2. Council have their own secret facebook page where the public cant post but they can slag off the rate payers.

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  3. At least we're guaranteed a police presence on the fourth Thursday of every month.

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  4. One thing our previous mayor didn't do was post all this crap on social media sites. Stop worrying about what has been written on Facebook and start doing your job. Surely you all knew you would be in the spotlight..

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  5. Amasing absolutely amasing. The New MAYOR is of the opinion that the Councillors are his Councillors. They are not. They were elected by those that voted in the election. Just like the MAYOR. The residents and ratepayors have the right to criticize and rebuke each and any of them as they like. If the new Councillors do not agree with this, then maybe its time to get out.

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  6. Couple of points to be made, I was at the meeting and besides a lot of passion and some language I didn't think it was that bad.The mayor is calling on the minister, the director and LGAT, to come up with some methods to deal with issues of crowd behaviour. The mayor already has adequate methods at his disposal, he could have asked those using language to tone it down, he didn't, he could have adjourned the meeting to calm things down, he didn't, he could have requested those people to leave, he didn't and if he genuinely thought the councillors were in danger he SHOULD have called the police, he of course didn't. The deputy mayor was so distressed that she took to Facebook from within the meeting to boast of the victory of having " the rumour" of public money being spent on her to reach compliance to run the market and to boast of councils victory over the ratepayers in defestind the no confidence motion. is this an example of councils new communication's strategy? I would also like to point out to all of the councillors that I am not a candidate but I am a ratepayer of two properties. It's mine and others hard earned money that pays your allowances. The AGM is when we the ratepayers get to pass a judgement on councils performance, so Mr Mayor your comments about the stupidity of the no confidence motion and the connection you have tried to make between that motion and two unsuccessful candidates is one you will be explaining to a code of conduct panel.

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  7. You are absolutely right, you have the right to communicate with your elected councillors, it's your method that is of concern. There is an open door offer, what a wonderful way to progress your concerns.

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  8. Wow they've only been in the job 5 mins how about we let them have a go at the job the majority voted them in for first before criticizing

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  9. w0w 1st. AGM I had missed since migrating to New Norfolk & the Derwent Valley.

    There were times that I felt very lonely with the passing of two other rate payers that use to attend. There were lots of times when frustration, confusion and at times ignorance on my part. But never have I lost the respect for the space, the people & the opportunity to be part of something bigger than us!

    I for one never see behaviors...my ears doing most of the seeing therefore a person demonstrates/communicates from the fiber that they themselves have squired by example. We as a people & a community must capture the the essence of kindness. That is what make us as individuals show it and other folk will see you having something worth mirroring & asking you about.

    If it takes a symbol.... by a line in the sand... then that could be the start of the search. Back to where I was Joni Mitchel got it "Both sides now"...it all started by rocking up and having a go.

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  10. Here, here to your comments Chris Lester, also to Migloo's sentiments of needing to 'capture the essence of kindness'. As for Facebook and other social media-it can be a destructive weapon in the hands of those who use it unwisely. The written word doesn't always convey the intended message with no body language to go with it, and why was Councillor Cosgrove on Facebook during a formal meeting? I hope our new Mayor doesn't intend a police presence again as one of his 'increased powers'. That would be a serious attempt at intimidation of ratepayers.

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  11. As a former Councillor I am surprised by the postion taken by some of our Councillors in saying they felt threatened and were bullied at the AGM. I was at the AGM and yes there were upset and frustated residents in attendance. The accusations made by 2 of our Councillors are just not true. Yes this is a new Council and if I was in there shoes at the moment I would not be attacking those that were present, but listening to what was actually said and doing something about it. To say that they are bringing in new house rules is all very fine, but why not use what is already available. The Mayor knows very well what is available, having to use some of them at the Council Meeting Molesworth earlier this year. I also take offence at the comment buy the Mayor that the 2 candidates present that were not elected just had sour grapes. I would like to say that I have been a candidate in nearly every election since 2000, when not actually sitting as a Councillor, and at no time have I ever had sour grapes about not being elected. That is how it goes. As for the Mayor and his comments I too am going to see that he explains them in front of a code of conduct panel.

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  12. Well now there's an interesting revelation, seems that the council didn't make the decision to "draw a line in the sand" turns out to be a discussion between the Mayor, deputy mayor, and Councillor power. So here you three are lecturing others about proper ways of doing things while ignoring the proper ways a council is supposed to operate. Hypocrisy at it's best.

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  13. Wouldn't want there job for all the money in the world!! Merry Xmas too all 😁

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