Mayor cleared of breaching code

COFFS Harbour Mayor Keith Rhoades has been cleared of allegations he breached the council’s Code of Conduct during a stormy meeting last year and in a subsequent radio interview.

It has been recommended former deputy mayor Bill Palmer be asked to apologise for comments he made on the same occasion. The comments were deemed to have breached the Code of Conduct, particularly the section on general conduct obligations.

The complaints against both the mayor and Cr Palmer arose from an extraordinary meeting of council on August 2 to discuss the dismissal of the council’s former general manager Stephen Sawtell.

Both men gave radio interviews about the meeting the following day.

The complaints were reviewed by a sole reviewer from the council’s Conduct Review Committee.

Cr Palmer was alleged to have made inappropriate comments to a fellow councillor at the meeting when he told Cr Mark Graham to ‘sit down and shut up’ and to have made inappropriate remarks about members of the public gallery at the meeting when he referred to them as ‘losers’; ‘never will-bes’” and ‘the dregs of the community’.

In investigating the complaint, the reviewer said Cr Palmer’s comment during the meeting was dealt with by the mayor, who called Cr Palmer to order by stating his name, after which no further inappropriate comments were made by Cr Palmer.

The report said the comments during the radio interview breached the section of the code which said others must be treated with respect at all times.

Cr Rhoades was alleged to have breached the code at the meeting by failing to lead councillors in relation to the conditional resignation of the former general manager and associated management issues and to have

’demonstrated a fierce disrespect for the community’ by commenting that meeting rules should be given to the crowd to make them behave.

He was also alleged to have breached the code during a subsequent radio interview by voicing his disgust with those in the gallery; at the conduct, attacks and snipes from the ringleaders, while making no mention of “his own appalling conduct, snipes and attacks towards councillors Graham and Degens that led to reactions from observers” and by informing listeners that others would lodge Code of Conduct complaints against Cr Graham.

The reviewer found the mayor, who was the chairman at the extraordinary meeting, had appropriately applied the Code of Meeting Practice and Code of Conduct at the meeting and had not made the comments as alleged.

Regarding the radio interview, the Code of Conduct reviewer found the mayor was merely repeating what had been said to him by other people, so the allegation was not sustained.

The two conduct reviewer reports will be discussed at the first Coffs City Council meeting of the year, which will be held at 5pm on Thursday.

Other items for discussion on Thursday will be the heritage strategic plan, the schedule for the 2011-2012 operational plan and the community advisory group for the Coffs Harbour 2030 Community Strategic Plan.

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