|Anne Stephenson asking her question.|
CLAIMS of bullying by people in the public gallery at the December council meetings were the personal opinion of one councillor, Derwent Valley mayor Ben Shaw said at the first council meeting for 2019. Responding to a local resident’s question, Cr Shaw said he was happy for councillors to speak their mind if they felt upset or aggrieved.
During public question time at the January 24 council meeting, Molesworth resident Anne Stephenson referred to “fallout on social media” following the council annual general meeting in December. “One new councillor reported that the [public] gallery was out of control, and this councillor called them bullies,” Mrs Stephenson said.
“I was one member of the gallery and I object to being called a bully. This councillor needs to be reminded that some electors who voted for them were in the gallery. That councillor is there through the ratepayers, for the ratepayers, and should not be as self-serving as their agenda is starting to sound,” she said.
Mrs Stephenson then asked whether, in hindsight, the mayor “regrets giving that councillor leave to say what they wanted on social media?”
|Cr Power’s video statement on bullying.|
Cr Shaw said he did not regret the decision. “The councillor in question is obviously not here, so I guess that’s a little bit directed at that councillor … but I’m happy to answer that. No, I don’t regret it, the councillor and several other councillors in the room that night did feel very anxious and they felt scared and they said that to me after the meeting. Cr Power came to me and said ‘I want to make a statement. I feel like I need to make a statement.’
“I can’t hear everything from up here, so I didn’t actually hear everything that Cr Power and a few other councillors mentioned that they heard. So the way that Cr Power was feeling at that time she really felt like she needed to make a statement, she wanted to make a statement.
“I asked her to make sure that it was her personal opinion, but she had spoken to the majority of the councillors I believe and put that forward. So no I don’t regret it, I’m happy for any councillors to speak their mind if they feel upset or aggrieved.”
Mrs Stephenson acknowledged the mayor’s response. “It’s just a shame that before she was elected she didn’t come along to some of the meetings to gauge the atmosphere of the meetings and gauge the passion and frustration of some of the ratepayers,” Mrs Stephenson said.
Cr Shaw: “Yes.”
Mrs Stevenson: “And that is why I was very offended by her calling us bullies.”
Cr Shaw: “Yes.”
Mrs Stephenson: “I know it was directed generally but nevertheless we were all branded bullies.”
Cr Shaw: “Yes, and certainly I’m sure I’m sure she’d be more than happy to sit down with you and talk to you about how she felt and maybe express opinions of how you felt as well. I’d advise you to maybe talk to her next time she’s at a meeting and ask for that sit-down or email and ask.”
Mrs Stephenson and husband Alby have been regular members of the public gallery at council meetings and workshops over a number of years. Cr Power attended a council meeting immediately prior to her election, and post-eelection attended a ceremonial meeting, monthly meeting and special meeting prior to the December 13 meetings (AGM and monthly meeting).
In a video posted on social media the day after the AGM, Cr Power said five people had caused an “amazing uproar” at the meeting and another “20-odd” had encouraged it. Her comments were later endorsed by mayor Shaw and deputy mayor Jessica Cosgrove, as well as being disputed by some of the people present.
Cr Power today told the New Norfolk News that she had not singled out any individual. “The tactics used in the room were certainly bullying tactics – belittling, name-calling and intimidation are all classic bullying tactics,” she said.
“You don’t need to be at a council meeting to understand the issues and the frustrations of the community. That is why I put up my hand to be elected. I’m frustrated too, but I don’t take it out on an individual or a group of people, I get in there and try to fix it.”
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF:
Council audio recording of the annual general meeting (edited by the council after the meeting)
After Mrs Stephenson’s question to the January meeting had been dealt with, Len Butterworth from New Norfolk attempted to comment on Cr Power having supported the new earlier start for council meetings. Another local resident in the gallery, Russell Alphey, told him to “shut up”. Mr Butterworth crossed the floor and asked what he had said, and Ian Lacey, also from New Norfolk, offered “shut up, he said.” Mayor Shaw called on Mr Butterworth to resume his seat, saying he was now intimidating a staff member where he was standing. Mr Butterworth drew an imaginary line on the floor and stepped behind it.
Later in the meeting, Cr Julie Triffett said she took on board Mrs Stephenson’s comments but “if councillors had spoken to, or about, members of the public as the gallery did to councillors, then there would have been multiple codes of conduct flying around that night.”
Cr Triffett said there had been “inappropriate address” and comments such as “keep the bastards honest” during the AGM. “Well thank you for the offer, but no thank you. Every decision I make around this table is made to the best of my experience and knowledge, and for the betterment of the community and the big picture.”