Clarence Valley Council’s councillors were faced with a dilemma of sorts at the June 23 council meeting: whether or not to concur with the council officer’s recommendation that the mayor, “on behalf of council, write to Lim Kim Hai the Executive Chairman of Regional Express Holdings Ltd, apologising for the negative comments made towards REX at Council’s May meeting and thanking him for what Council acknowledges”.
In reality, councillors were faced with deciding whether or not to implicate Cr Deborah Novak in the ‘apology’.
The June 16 extraordinary meeting that was meant to consider the issue was cancelled the day before, as a result of various legal advices provided to the mayor, Jim Simmons.
General manager Ashley Lindsay recommended in that now defunct business paper, that “Cr Novak apologise without reservation to Lim Kim Hai Executive Chairman and the Board of Regional Express Holdings Ltd for her comments made in debate … calling on REX to ‘pull their finger out’”.
In the ‘key issues’ section, Mr Lindsay wrote that he had “reviewed the recording of the meeting”.
“I believe Cr Novak has breached Council’s Code of Meeting Practice during her debate … which provides: ‘A councillor commits an act of disorder if the councillor, at a meeting of the council … says or does anything that is … likely to bring the council … into contempt,” Mr Lindsay wrote.
“Cr Novak’s commentary on REX and their Board was contemptuous…”
Mr Lindsay wrote that under “the Code of Meeting Practice, Council can call on Cr Novak to ‘retract and apologise without reservation’”.
“The comments made by Cr Novak about REX Airlines at the May Council would appear to have brought Council into disrepute,” Mr Lindsay wrote.
Debate and questions on the issue at the June 23 CVC meeting took nearly two hours; during which Cr Andrew Baker withdrew his notice of motion (which was not revealed to the public) and, instead, tabled a motion that, had it succeeded, would have referred “this matter to the Office of Local Government Departmental Chief Executive as a complaint under 440H of the Local Government Act 1993”.
This course of action was preferable, he said, because “we [councillors] have shown by our actions” since the extraordinary meeting was cancelled, that the process “has gone off the rails”.
Councillor Peter Ellem said there was a “perfectly good recommendation [the mayor write to Mr Lim “apologising for the negative comments made towards REX”] that deals with it in a level-headed way”.
The mayor said he didn’t like the words “gone off the rails”.
“Something occurred to have a cancellation of the extraordinary meeting,” Cr Baker said.
The mayor said he cancelled that extraordinary meeting after taking legal advice from the Office of Local Government … continued online.
During a failed attempt by Cr Richie Williamson to amend Cr Baker’s motion – to omit the part that stated “take no further action on the matter”, etcetera – Cr Greg Clancy pointed out that neither a councillor nor an offence was named.
“How can we refer to something that doesn’t exist?” he said.
“Is this an investigation into Cr Novak’s or your [Cr Simmons’] behaviour?”
Cr Novak asked if the investigation would consider advice the GM had previously provided to the mayor in the extraordinary meeting business paper.
“I don’t recall providing any advice at the CVC meeting,” Mr Lindsay said.
Councillor Baker’s motion was defeated, with councillors Simmons, Ellem, Williamson, Clancy, Novak and Toms opposed.
During what Cr Williamson described as “spirited debate”, Cr Novak read from CVC’s Code of Conduct (COC) regarding “harassment” and said, “I believe that this debate is creating a hostile environment.”
The mayor said he was “not so sure about that” and that comments made by Cr Baker “are acceptable”.
Cr Baker said, “Did I just here an allegation or complaint under the Code of Conduct levelled against me?
“There has been some great demonstration here today of how some words are acceptable from one councillor, but when another councillor returns serve we see a general sooking and carrying on…”
Cr Peter Ellem called a point of order: “Sooking, Mr Mayor, who’s he talking about? Is it me or is it someone else in the room?”
Eventually, councillors, apart from Cr Novak, supported an amendment to the officer’s recommendation, which removed the word apology and replaced it with “expressing regret for any perceptions of negativity causing offence made towards REX”.
In the wash-up, Cr Novak maintained that she had done nothing wrong.
She thanked all of the people who had written to her or expressed their support for her, regarding what she “had been through for the past month”.
Citing the final decision, she said, “For me to agree to that infers I have done something wrong and I still don’t believe I have done something wrong.
“And to some of the points that have been discussed today it is a little bit disappointing for me.”
“…Even the people who did send me letters, where they were upset, I’m sorry that I might have disappointed you, but I’ve received so many more letters of support.”
To see and hear all that was said go to the address below and start playing at the 29-minute mark. www.facebook.com/clarencevalleycouncil/videos/332583724400535