Inquiry hears of disturbing behaviour of staff and between fellow Councillors

Roslyn McCullochRoslyn McCulloch is conducting the Public Inquiry into Central Coast Council.

Every councillor questioned by Commissioner Roslyn McCulloch at the Public Inquiry into Central Coast Council has admitted being unaware of changes to the investment report in October 2019.

By the end of the first week of October all Councillors except suspended Councillor Chris Burke have given evidence.

But the most shocking evidence has had nothing to do with how millions of dollars in restricted funds were spent without anyone knowing – that remains a mystery along with why the line item disappeared from the investment reports from October 2019.

It hasn’t been the testimony of the more vocal suspended Councillors who dominated Council meetings since they were elected in September 2017.

They have told us nothing new.

The most shocking evidence has come from the less vocal Councillors who talked about things we have never heard before.

Also shocking was the reticence of a number of these same Councillors to expand on the subject of Councillor behaviours in the chamber despite urging from Commissioner McCulloch.

Suspended Councillor Louise Greenaway explained that she had been the subject of a Code of Conduct complaint from a member of the public in November of 2017, only weeks into the term of the Council.

She didn’t know who the complainant was but they said she had significant non-pecuniary interest in certain topics including Warnervale Airport and Mangrove Mountain tip and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to debate or vote on these matters.

But Cr Greenaway had recently done her Council training and knew she didn’t have a conflict of interest.

In February 2018, Cr Greenaway wrote to the Office of Local Government asking why the matter was taking so long to resolve.

“So in April – so this is like five months after it, I got a phone call from Council saying they had an urgent delivery for me…..,”Cr Greenaway said.

“Then eventually one of the staff arrives at my house with the findings of the Code of Conduct, and it had actually been in the Council since I think February.

“They just hadn’t given it to me for all that time and I had felt very stressed every time I was in the Council trying to debate or vote knowing that this was happening.”

Earlier, the Commissioner had attempted to persuade Greenaway to open up about behaviours in the Chamber.

Eventually her legal counsel, James Ryan intervened.

“Commissioner, if I could just say that this is a very sensitive area for my client. She may wish to seek a short adjournment, and if she does, I’d just ask you to be sensitive about that,” Ryan said.

Cr Greenaway revealed she was still working on her written submission to the Public Inquiry.

Suspended Councillor Jilly Pilon told the Commissioner she had given up on her written submission as she had found it too difficult.

“I really found my time on Council in this past year has really affected me mentally,”

Jilly Pilon

“So in the end I felt that all my decisions that I’d made on Council, my voting, were all on record, all those meetings were on webcasts.

“I felt that there was a lot of pressure put on that it was all the Councillors’ fault, and I did feel that that really should have gone across a lot of areas.

“In the end, I just didn’t want to get involved in the blame game of where that sat, so I chose not to submit anything.”

Pilon said she had let the Liberal Party know by the end of 2019 that she wouldn’t run again.

“I found it too dysfunctional,” she said.

“I think, for me, it wasn’t a matter of being bullied in the Chamber. That’s politics. You know, yes, there were things I didn’t agree that were said by certain – well, probably one particular Councillor to myself, but aside from that, I think there were just a lot of problems.

“It wasn’t just down to blaming Councillors that I believe went in there, all of them, with good intentions for the community.”

Former councillor Rebecca Gale was also asked about behaviours in the Chamber.

“What about the behaviour of Councillors towards each other?” Commissioner McCulloch asked.

“Did you ever experience any untoward behaviour?”

Gale answered that she had.

“I did not exhibit any untoward behaviour myself. I did receive it and I’d prefer to leave it there,” she said.

Suspended Councillor, Jillian Hogan, said it was very combative within the chamber from the beginning.

“I’m really cognisant that it is a Public Inquiry and I don’t want to rename the things that have been said to myself and other colleagues, and especially women within the chamber, but I will say that in my experience, my values, my intelligence, my confidence, my professionalism, my family, my relationships and my womanhood have all been maligned in this Chamber.

“It was very much about what people looked like, who they spoke to, “Say this, don’t say this, just sit down, shut up”, and that was really my experience in the Chamber.

“It was said to me one day that ‘I’m going to write down everything that you say and I’m going to use it against you because there is an election coming up’.

“That was said to me, and that’s exactly my experience.

“So what that actually does to a person is – and it certainly did to me and it certainly does today – it strips away your sense of yourself.

“It makes you tongue-tied. You lose your sense of everything that you stand for and I think I talk for quite – probably another few women that have been on our Council.”

The Inquiry continued in the second week of October with members of the Council’s Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee and the first Administrator on the witness list.

The inquiry has been lived streamed via the Office of Local Government youtube channel.

Merilyn Vale

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