Councillor laments lack of training

Cr Anne Salt addressing the meeting.

COUNCILLOR Anne Salt told last month’s Derwent Valley Council meeting of her disappointment at having had a code of conduct complaint made against her last year, particularly as she had received no training at that point.

The subsequent investigation resulted in Cr Salt receiving a caution for failing to declare a conflict of interest, although several other complaints against her were dismissed.

Mr Len Butterworth had alleged that Cr Salt had failed to declare a conflict of interest at council meetings last June and July, stemming from her involvement with the Friends of Willow Court.

Cr Salt had been elected in March 2018 following the resignation of Cr Damian Bester and attended her first council meeting in May. At its meeting in June, the council considered expressions of interest received for the use of the Willow Court site, and at the July meeting it received and approved a calendar of events to be conducted at Willow Court by the Friends group.

The April and May 2018 minutes of the Friends of Willow Court show that the group had made two budget submissions to the council as well as an expression of interest application. Mrs Salt was the group’s chairwoman until September 2018 and is now its secretary.

“I am disappointed that I ended up with a code of conduct complaint against me in my first few weeks of being on council, particularly as I had no training at that point,” Cr Salt told last month’s council meeting after the Code of Conduct Panel’s determination was tabled.

“I didn’t have a pecuniary interest in the matter and I didn’t know that I should have left the room but someone in the gallery was of the opinion that I should have,” Cr Salt said. “The result is that I have been issued with a caution. This was a minor infringement, but it is a reminder that all councillors have to be mindful of the fact and declare an interest in matters to be discussed.

“Those of us who recently attended training know that we need to look out for each other while we are learning our role as there is a lot to take in. At the time of the closed meeting where the matter was discussed, I was surrounded by councillors who had all been on council for three or more years but not the mayor or any of the others present advised me that I should have removed myself from the room.

“As this was a closed meeting and I could have declared my interest … at that time time, out of hearing of the public, I can only assume that someone informed the member of the public that I had not left the room and I will certainly make sure that never happens to my colleagues.”

Mayor Ben Shaw said Cr Salt was certainly right “that things should not leave the closed meeting room.”

Cr Julie Triffett congratulated Cr Salt “on being exonerated by the code of conduct panel” and said it “floored her” to think the complaint had arisen from a closed council meeting. “It is $70 to lodge a complaint under the Code of Conduct and it depends on how long the complaint goes for as to how much it costs the council,” Cr Triffett said.

From the public gallery, Len Butterworth objected to Cr Triffett’s comment and pointed out that Cr Salt had not been exonerated, but had been found guilty. Cr Shaw asked Mr Butterworth to refrain from commenting while councillors were trying to conduct a meeting.

In their seven-page report, Code of Conduct Panel chairwoman Jill Taylor, legal member Richard Grueber and lay member Rob Winter noted that Mr Butterworth had alleged that Cr Salt had failed to declare a conflict of interest resulting from her involvement with the Friends of Willow Court when Willow Court was discussed at a closed council meeting on June 21, 2018, and an open council meeting on July 19.

The panel dismissed Mr Butterworth’s complaints in relation to decision making and use of office, but upheld parts of his complaint about conflict of interest.  “Cr Salt told the hearing that she has been a member of the Friends of Willow Court since approximately 2012, long before she was elected to council in April 2018 (sic).

“Cr Salt’s opinion that she did not have to declare a conflict of interest in relation to Willow Court was based on the fact that she believed she did not hold a pecuniary interest. However … in keeping with transparency and honesty, a councillor must declare actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest at any meetings.

“Conflict of interest is not restricted to pecuniary interests. Clearly her involvement in the committee ‘Friends of Willow Court’ over several years is an actual conflict of interest insofar as this matter is listed on any council meeting agenda. As such, Cr Salt should have declared her interest. By limiting her consideration of potential conflicts of interest to pecuniary interests and consequently failing to declare her interest she failed to exercise reasonable judgement contrary to sub-section 4.”

The panel acknowledged that Cr Salt had been a councillor for only a short period at the time of the complaint. “Nevertheless, it is beholden on councillors to inform themselves on the role and responsibilities of a councillor, including the code of conduct required. In this instance the panel determines that Cr Salt should be issued with a caution in relation to this complaint,” the report said.

Read the report in full in last month’s council agenda.

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