AN independent reviewer of a code of conduct brought against Cr Ron Campbell found that “the conduct of Councillor Campbell constituted a form of verbal abuse” and “also constituted an incident of harassment.”
What Cr Campbell did:
Last year as I sat bemused observing yet another Council meeting where they couldn’t figure out how to manage a point of order, Cr Ron Campbell sat staring angrily at me for several minutes before leaping to his feet and interrupting proceedings.
Cr Campbell: “Mr Mayor, a point of order, not on this matter, are you sure that there are no other recordings being made, of this of the Council meeting? “I just noticed our particular person (gesturing towards me) sitting there. I was wondering if they were making a recording. How, how can we be sure that, that is not being adhered to?”
Mayor Bedggood: “Alright, so that’s not a valid point of order at this point in proceedings, if you have concerns about that you’d speak to the general manager, or if you had hard core evidence you could bring it up and we’d address it. So, do you have hard core evidence of…”
I offered for them to check my laptop and phone, to show there were no recordings, but the offer was ignored.
Council meetings are audio recorded, so if I need to check any quotes I can simply get a copy from Council; but God knows having to listen to those meetings once is awful enough without wanting to endure it again or have it take up space on my phone. But enough of logic, Cr Campbell pushed on with his rant.
Cr Campbell: “No, only only the fact that the same happened in the D&E and I just had reason that that when it’s reported particular reporter it is never reported, reported in the full context.”
Mayor Bedggood: “That’s irrelevant Councillor so unless you have a valid complaint we can’t address it.”
Initiating the code of conduct:
To be clear I’ve never recorded a Council meeting, because there is no need and while I found the bizarre, aggressive behaviour typical of Cr Campbell, it was also typical of broader behaviour I’ve seen from Councillors using their position and Council meetings in a hostile way towards other Councillors and occasionally towards members of the general public who aren’t even present at the meeting, so I decided not to let it slide and to hold Cr Campbell to account.
One avenue could have been defamation, but honestly that is long and expensive (at least $250,000 minimum in legal fees just to launch a case) and rarely worth bothering about. Instead I lodged a Code of Conduct Complaint against Cr Campbell.
The Code of Conduct was taken out of Council’s hands and given to an independent reviewer. The reviewer found Cr Campbell had breached the code and further stated his behaviour was “verbally abusive” and “constituted an incident of harassment.” Cr Campbell was directed by the reviewer to apologise, but advised Cr Campbell “has indicated that he will refuse to do so.” (See more details of the findings at the end of this story).
Behaviour by other Councillors in meetings:
Only a few months after Cr Campbell’s breach, another Councillor made demeaning comments about a private tenant in their own rental property, during a public Council meeting. The comments were bizarrely irrelevant, not part of Council’s business agenda and the tenant spoken poorly about was not present at the meeting or involved with Council business in anyway.
In 2018, during a Council meeting discussing the local swimming pool, Cr Fisher named someone who had been convicted of a crime, but did not have the Parliamentary privilege to do so: Editorial: Two words – the public had many. Scone.com.au is aware of another Code of Conduct brought against Cr Fisher by a member of the public, for which after the review, Cr Fisher apologised.
Cr Abbott has been the subject of several Code of Conducts, which she believes were brought from other Councillors in order to gag her from speaking to the media. In one Code of Conduct brought against Cr Abbott, Council claimed in their business papers it was a “security issue” (Council plot thickens). However, Cr Abbott was not a risk of breaching any laws, simply breaching the Council’s own media policy which had prevented her from speaking publicly without the express permission of the General Manager or the Mayor. Council’s do not have the right under the law to prevent Councillors from speaking to the media.
The behaviours of Councillors within Council meetings is a concern and last night Councillor Campbell, when voting against a gender equity training and policy, put it best when he said, “I suggest too that each one of us have the responsibility to abide by that code of conduct and meeting practice.”
If only he walked the talk!
Findings of the Independent Review into Cr Campbell’s behaviour:
The independent review of Cr Campbell’s conduct determined the following:
i. The conduct of Councillor Campbell in publicly inferring, without substantive evidence, that you, a local journalist, was or had been improperly recording Council meetings and accusing you of not reporting Council matters in their full context, was conduct that was likely to bring himself and Council into disrepute (clause 3.1(a)).
ii. The term ‘our particular person’ was used publicly and in a derogatory manner towards you, and Councillor Campbell raised a point of order which could have been dealt with in a more confidential or indirect manner, for example, by asking the Mayor to remind all persons present that recording of the Council proceedings was prohibited (clause 3.1(c)).
iii. The conduct of Councillor Campbell constituted a form of verbal abuse towards you by publicly accusing you of prohibited acts and raising an allegation that you, as a reporter, did not properly report Council activities (clause 3.1(e)). The conduct also constituted an incident of harassment in that you reported finding the comments made by Councillor Campbell during the Council General Meeting to be unwanted, demeaning, and you stated that it added to the hostile environment which exists between yourself and certain Councillors, including Councillor Campbell (clauses 3.1(g) and 3.6). The investigation has found that a reasonable person may find the conduct of Councillor Campbell unwanted, demeaning and hostile.
iv. The conduct was reckless as to consequences which might flow from the comments made. Inferring improper conduct without substantive evidence was conduct which was likely to adversely affect you. The actions of Councillor Campbell were likely to damage your reputation and credibility as a reporter. Councillor Campbell failed to act with due care and diligence regarding the public accusations he made against you (clause 3.2).