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Dirty politics mar Coorong council election
A defamatory and anonymous letter to residents has heightened tensions in an already tense contest between “Coorong Unites” and independent candidates.
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An anonymous and defamatory letter has further inflamed tensions between candidates as voting begins in this year’s Coorong council election.
Many residents – thousands, by some estimates – received a letter about mayoral candidate Neville Jaensch during the past week.
It made a series of allegations about Councillor Jaensch’s conduct during his previous term as mayor, from 2014-18.
The letter-writer did not identify themselves.
“I’m not anybody important,” he or she wrote.
“I am not with the council but I am interested in the goings-on around town.”
Under the Local Government (Elections) Act, anyone publishing electoral material must provide their name and address or risk a $2500 penalty.
Cr Jaensch described the letter as an “illegal and unethical” effort to smear his reputation, and its contents as “highly defamatory, false, inappropriate and misleading”.
“Actions like these are a deliberate attempt to … intimidate our community,” he said.
“Acts like these reiterate to me the importance of keeping our (council) chamber and community respectable and accountable, addressing the warring and dysfunction of the council, and ensuring the issues of this term remain in this term.”
Current Mayor Paul Simmons – who received a brief but favourable mention in the letter – said he did not know the identity of the letter-writer, but was “extremely disappointed” at his or her actions.
“I dislike it and it’s been reported to the authorities,” he said.
“That’s all I can do.”
Coorong Unites is not a political party, Simmons says
The letter added tinder to an already fiery election in the Coorong district, where nine candidates have been campaigning for Cr Simmons – and against the other candidates – under the banner “Coorong Unites”.
The group will host a meet-the-candidates evening at Tailem Bend Football Club this Thursday night, and has organised or attended other events around the district.
Despite the shared branding and coordinated campaigning, right down to the #Simmo4Mayor hashtag, Cr Simmons said the group was not a political party.
He described it as more of a “joint endorsement”.
If elected, each of the Coorong Unites candidates would bring his or her individual perspectives to the table, he said – they would not vote as a bloc.
The same group of candidates promised the same thing at the 2018 election, when they ran as the “Team for Change” and won six of nine seats on the council.
Although five of those councillors have since voted together on some contentious issues, such as a vote of no confidence in Cr Simmons’ leadership, each has brought his or her own perspectives to other matters.
Cr Simmons said he did not tell anyone how to vote.
“People feel confident in my style of leadership, and were wishing to join a council (in 2022-26) under that style of leadership,” he said.
State MP lends his support to ‘good friend’ Simmons
The Coorong Unites movement traces its history back to a series of heated community meetings in 2017-18, during the last year of Cr Jaensch’s term as mayor.
At that time, hundreds of locals questioned the Coorong council’s approach to roads, rate capping and other issues, with many arguing that it was too Tailem Bend-centric.
One of the most outspoken members of the movement which became the Coorong Ratepayers Action Group was Glynis Taylor, who was elected as part of the Team for Change soon afterwards.
Another was state MP Adrian Pederick, who chaired many of the community meetings.
In state parliament last month, Mr Pederick recalled being “disappointed, and that is being polite” about Cr Jaensch’s leadership.
“I’ve made no secret (of the fact that) I was deeply disappointed … in the lack of funding going to local road programs,” Mr Pederick told Murray Bridge News on Wednesday.
“That’s the main thing people want in regional councils.
“Councils need to tend to roads, rates and rubbish – if you get that right, you’ll get supported.”
Mr Pederick said he fully supported the mayoral re-election push by Cr Simmons, a close personal friend since childhood.
However, Cr Simmons said neither CRAG nor the Liberal Party – of which both he and Mr Pederick were members – had been involved with the Coorong Unites campaign at a high level.
The members of each group simply shared common goals.
All that remained to be seen was whether they would win enough votes to achieve them.
Meet the Coorong Unites candidates: 7pm Thursday at Tailem Bend Football Club.
Clarification: This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the fact that the former Team for Change councillors have voted together on certain matters, but not as frequently as was previously suggested.
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