Shire cover-up shields Rayner, Scott from censure for ‘appalling’ newsletter
Breach of conduct went unpunished because councillors not told
By Michael Sinclair-Jones
A FORMAL finding six months ago that Toodyay Shire President Brian Rayner (right) and CEO Stan Scott (above) breached the shire code of conduct by publishing “derogatory and improper” statements in a shire community newsletter was kept hidden from ratepayers and other councillors until last month.
The pair were not required to apologise or face any penalty because only the council can order such action – and councillors were not told the code had been breached.READ MORE
It was not revealed until Mr Scott’s written recommendation to last month’s coucil meeting that the adverse finding against President Rayner and himself be overturned.
Most councillors knew nothing about the breach until Mr Scott raised it as ‘confidential business’ behind closed doors at last month’s council agenda briefing.
The breach occurred in last year’s April shire newsletter when Mr Scott used WA’s ‘R U OK?’ campaign slogan to publish: “I am not OK with the way that the good people of Toodyay who do not agree with the unprincipled campaign by The Herald and the TPA (Toodyay Progress Association) are bullied and harassed for having a different point of view.”
“I am not OK with the damage that is being done to my reputation in the Local Government Industry, a reputation which prior to this smear campaign was impeccable.”
Mr Scott said he was supported by the “majority of the people of Toodyay who don’t like the way this campaign looks and smells”.
SOME councillors later described Mr Scott’s article as “appalling” and said it should not have been published in a ratepayer-funded shire newsletter.
The Toodyay Progress Association made a formal complaint to the shire that President Rayner and Mr Scott breached clause 3.5 of the shire code of conduct – “Avoid Derogatory Statements”.
“We will not make any allegations that are derogatory or improper,” the code states.
“We will always act in the best interest of the shire and refrain from any type of communication in our public or professional duties which may cause any reasonable person unwarranted offence or embarrassment.
“When we are uncertain about the probable impact of our communications, we should seek access to legal advice.”
No legal advice
NEITHER Mr Scott nor President Rayner are understood to have sought legal advice before publishing the ‘R U OK’ article.
The complaint against them quoted the Oxford Dictionary definition of ‘derogatory’ as “showing a critical or disrespectful attitude”, and ‘improper’ as “not in accordance with accepted standards, especially of morality or honesty”.
The shire appointed Deputy Shire President Therese Chitty to investigate the complaint, which she upheld in August last year.
It sought remedial action that the “Shire of Toodyay unreservedly withdraws these statements and allegations; that it issues a formal and public apology to the TPA and further that the Shire President and CEO undergo remedial training”.
The code states that the council can impose penalties on staff members ranging from “warnings and other disciplinary action to instant dismissal”.
Penalties for elected members include “public censure, public apology and an order to undertake training”.
“Matters reported will be treated in the strictest confidence until appropriate action has been taken.”
No action taken
HOWEVER, no action was taken because the breach was not referred to the council, there was no apology and the offending article was still on the shire website earlier this month.
Most councillors didn’t know the code had been breached until Mr Scott’s report last month sought to have it overturned and asked the council to uphold “the right of the Shire President and the CEO to make reasoned factual responses to public criticism”.
President Rayner declared an “impartiality interest” because the complaint was against “myself and the CEO”, and Deputy President Chitty declared a similar interest because she conducted the investigation.
Both stayed in the chamber for the debate, which was held behind closed doors.
Mr Scott’s bid for the council to decide no breach had occurred was moved by Cr Judy Dow and seconded by Cr Paula Greenway.
However, Cr Ben Bell said the code of conduct did not allow the council to determine whether or not a breach had occurred, and the motion was lost 5-3 with only President Rayner and Crs Dow, and Greenway supporting Mr Scott’s recommendation.
The shire’s failure to apologise and withdraw the offending article has been referred to a formal State Government inquiry into the council which includes “the culture within the shire and any other matter that comes to its attention during the inquiry”.
President Rayner and Mr Scott did not respond to Herald requests for comment.