Robe District Council ‘silencing tactics’ slammed

A Robe ratepayer remains frustrated at what he sees as “silencing tactics” by the Robe council.
A Robe ratepayer remains frustrated at what he sees as “silencing tactics” by the Robe council.

A Robe ratepayer remains frustrated at what he sees as “silencing tactics” by the Robe council.

But council CEO Roger Sweetman has denied the claim, saying the council welcomes public input, and provides adequate opportunity.

Resident Tony Bishop has been at odds with the council since he and his wife were pursued over a development application in 2011. The Bishops were later cleared of any wrongdoing, but Mr Bishop said his subsequent efforts to seek compensation or an apology have been frustrated by the council.

In November, Mr Bishop requested that the council launch an investigation into the ERD court judgement in 2014 which dismissed the council’s action against the Bishops.

Councillors voted against an investigation, prompting Mr Bishop to attend the December meeting where he claims he was prevented from putting his case.

Mr Bishop started to speak at the meeting and ask if the council had received a communication he had sent relating to complaints about the actions of the CEO Roger Sweetman, but he was quickly told it was not appropriate to discuss the matter.

Mayor Peter Riseley said: “This is a code of conduct complaint.”

Mr Bishop: “Can you explain to me why you can’t even have the decency to acknowledge...”

Cr John Enright: “Can you please let the mayor speak.”

Mayor: “Yes please Mr Bishop let me speak because it’s not an ordinary practice that everything has to be answered within 12 hours so I have handled the matter by handing it on to the deputy chief executive officer so it’s been lodged in correspondence and a response will be forthcoming at an appropriate time.

“So I’m sorry it is not within your rapid time response but it is in the system and you will get a response in due course.

“This is about a code of conduct complaint and it will not be discussed in here this evening.”

Mr Bishop: “I was making sure you actually had it.”

Cr Lawrence Polomka: “I move that this person no longer be heard, we’ve heard enough.”

Later, Mr Bishop told the Leader that the stymying tactics were typical of his dealings with the council. 

“The Robe council is trying to silence anyone who points out anything wrong with the council,” he said.

“I’d like the public to be aware of what the council is doing in terms of silencing people. I think this is pretty important to the public, from what I hear the public is pretty peeved with what’s going on.”

Mr Bishop said he had all but given up hope of getting any compensation or an apology from the council, but merely now wanted to make sure the council was accountable for its actions into the future.

“All I’m getting now is a re-run of what happened a few years ago,” he said.

“I tried to negotiate some form of compensation...I’ve virtually dropped that. I just don't want this to happen to anyone ever again.

“They don’t want anybody standing up in a public forum and saying anything...and that’s not right.”

Robe CEO Mr Sweetman responded to each of Mr Bishop’s claims, saying that the council had fulfilled its responsibilities in the wake of the court decision.

“Mr Bishop won the legal action in the Environment Resource and Development Court in relation to his uncompleted building work and council were required by the court to contribute to Mr Bishop’s legal costs. Council’s contribution was $14,000.

Council has received many pieces of correspondence from Mr Bishop and lawyers acting on behalf of Mr Bishop seeking council pay $40,000 in compensation to Mr Bishop.

“Council is of the view that it would need to have very good legal reasons to pay this amount of compensation. Council has obtained legal advice which has stated that Mr Bishop has yet to put forward legal argument to support his claim for compensation and to support the figure of $40,000.

“Mr Bishop has been advised that council will not consider a payment of compensation unless there are sound legal reasons to do so.”

Mr Sweetman said council provided opportunities for people to address council meetings, via the public forum and deputations, as well as elected member forums where the public could be invited to speak.

“There are however rules which the public must adhere to when they address the formal council meetings relating to behaviour, language and criticism of staff and elected members.

“These rules are standard throughout local government.

“If people addressing council do not adhere to these rules then they will be prevented from addressing council.

“Mr Bishop did not adhere to the rules relating to addressing council and therefore was prevented from continuing with his address.

“All elected members and staff are available to discuss matters with members of the public, but people must observe common decency when talking to elected members and staff.”

Mr Sweetman added: “Council welcomes community input and comment and conducts formal consultation in relation to matters before council. Elected members and staff informally consult with many of the community during the normal course of their day.”

On the issue of Mr Bishop’s request for an investigstion, Mr Sweetman said: “Council is currently working through the review process as detailed within the Local Government Act. If this review identifies any shortcomings in how council has managed Mr Bishop’s requests then these will be addressed by council.”