Complaints against two Coorong councillors dismissed

The Local Government Governance Panel has dismissed two recent code of conduct complaints.

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Two Coorong councillors are in the clear after formal complaints about their actions were dismissed.

The Local Government Governance Panel has dismissed suggestions that Mayor Paul Simmons and Councillor Lisa Rowntree breached the council’s code of conduct at a meeting in June.

Cr Vern Leng had argued that Cr Simmons breached confidentiality by hinting that several other code of conduct complaints were being investigated, and by allowing Cr Jeff Arthur to do the same.

During a general discussion about code of conduct complaints, Cr Simmons had said “I can’t tell you what I’m dealing with at the moment”, while Cr Arthur had said “a few more” complaints were ongoing.

That could not possibly be considered a breach of confidentiality, the governance panel’s deputy manager said in his report, which was included in the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting.

“The bare possibility that anybody would understand such comment to mean that there was a particular code process on foot is simply not sufficient to make out a ... breach,” he said.

Cr Leng had also lodged a complaint against Cr Rowntree over remarks she made on the same day, during a debate about the civic prayer at the start of each council meeting.

Cr Rowntree had argued that praying to “almighty God” was disrespectful to non-Christians.

Cr Leng’s complaint suggested those remarks were themselves disrespectful, and could even constitute bullying.

The panel suggested Cr Leng had misunderstood, and that the remarks had been made during a robust debate about a controversial matter.

Resolving the two complaints cost the council around $1500.

Cr Leng had previously been found to have breached the code of conduct for elected members himself.

However, he disputed that finding at the time, describing it as flawed, defamatory and the result of a campaign being waged against him by other councillors, staff and members of the public.

Cr Leng’s two complaints originated from the same meeting at which the findings against him were made public.

Correction: An earlier version of this post included a typo in Cr Simmons’ name. Photo: Coorong District Council.

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