City of Victor Harbor elected members turn on themselves in explosive meeting

COUNCIL: Elected members when elected in 2014 to the City of Victor Harbor council.
COUNCIL: Elected members when elected in 2014 to the City of Victor Harbor council.

A Code of Conduct investigation into the behaviour of City of Victor Harbor councillors Peter Charles and Bob Marshall has caused both councillors to apologise to the full council and for Cr Charles to undergo training on July 5, 2018.

A complaint by councillor Carol Schofield against Cr Charles was the catalyst for fiery exchanges with councillors labelling the chamber “dysfunctional”, “toxic” and a “disgrace”.

On October 25, 2016, Cr Schofield made a formal complaint about the conduct of Cr Charles and Ray Pincombe was engaged by council to conduct an investigation and mediation between Cr Schofield and Cr Charles. Mr Pincombe said the behaviour of Cr Charles towards Cr Schofield could be, in some elements, considered as “harassment in the context of the Council Code of Conduct for Council Members”.

At the council meeting held in April, council resolved to conduct a formal independent investigation into the complaint. Ms Kaye Smith from EMA Legal was engaged to carry out the investigation and found that Cr Charles had breached two Code of Conduct clauses. Cr Marshall became embroiled in the Code of Conduct action when Cr Schofield complained about an email  Cr Marshall sent on October 30, 2017.

Cr Marshall sent an email to the Acting CEO, former CEO and all elected members sticking up for Cr Charles, stating the cost of the investigation, at $16,358, was a disgrace.

“All because some silly light-hearted comment the likes of which we all are likely to say at times without thinking and regret later,” he wrote in the email.

“Then the radical feminists get involved seeking revenge for what men have said and done for the last 10,000 years and encourage the easily led amongst us! It’s not Peter Charles who is guilty but the little gang who perpetrated this simply to be vindictive.”

The Ombudsman considered the email to constitute conduct that does not reflect reasonable community expectations of how council members should conduct themselves.

Adding further heat to the meeting, a recommendation was made that council request the LGA of SA lobby the Minister of Local Government for changes to the code of conduct for elected members. Changes would include the elevation of bullying and harassment behaviours to misconduct, as well as the introduction of tougher penalties for breaches of the code including dismissal, suspension and removal of allowances.   

Councillor Terry Andrews said the recommendation was a ”dictatorship” and successfully moved a motion that only the people through proper elections have the right to say who will and who will not be an elected member. Councillor Tim Glazbrook vented his disappointment at the council’s conduct and said “I am embarrassed to be here”.  

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