IN an age when the behaviour of everybody in the public arena is under more scrutiny than could have been imagined even 20 years ago, the NSW Office of Local Government (OLG) has a "model code of conduct" that council officials are expected to abide by in the fulfilment of their duties.
As a consequence of that code of conduct, Newcastle Independent councillor Kath Elliott has been suspended from the council for a period of six weeks - effectively for leaking to the media the details of a code of conduct investigation into a January 2020 report into allegations that she swore at City of Newcastle chief executive Jeremy Bath during a closed councillor workshop.
This matter was reported in the Newcastle Herald in April last year.
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As well, an OLG statement explaining the decision to suspend Cr Elliott goes onto say that Cr Elliott "intentionally" provided the media with details of some 12 code of conduct complaints against her, which were classified as confidential.
Cr Elliott intends to fight her suspension in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
That number of complaints alone - 12 against one councillor in four years - should be cause for alarm.
If they are serious, Cr Elliott should go.
But if they are not serious, it could be that the number of complaints indicates the system is being used - or "weaponised" - as a political tool.
As the OLG has confirmed, it is not suspending Cr Elliott for the nature of her alleged breaches, but because she disclosed the content of investigators' reports to the media.
This appears to be confirmed by Mr Bath in his memo yesterday to councillors, saying Cr Elliott's "suspension does not relate to a code of conduct matter considered by the City of Newcastle, or any previous censure".
COVID-delayed council elections across NSW are due on Saturday, December 4, meaning that if the OLG's action holds, Cr Elliott is being suspended for six of the final seven weeks of this local government term, encompassing the two final scheduled meetings of this council.
People may also ask why this matter is being pursued with such apparent vigour.
The OLG statement says the penalty "sends a clear message" of the need to uphold the code of conduct.
The clearest message of all will come on December 4 at the ballot box, provided the virus does not intervene, again.
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