By ERWIN CHLANDA
Councillor Jimmy Cocking (pictured) has made a public statement about a code of conduct process on which there are finally some findings. It dates back to an event in January this year, has been conducted in secrecy, into allegations not publicly disclosed, made by a person still unknown and investigated by a government appointed committee whose membership has been kept secret.
This is contrary to the spirit, and possibly the letter, of the legislation which provides for these issues to conducted in a public forum.
The minister responsible for Local Government, Gerry McCarthy, recently declined to comment.
The issues have had an undoubted and at times serious impact on the smooth and harmonious running of the Town Council for nearly a year now.
This is the text of Cr Cocking’s statement which outlines the nature of the complaint and the recent findings of the Local Government Disciplinary Committee.
• I am making this statement without prejudice to clarify the nature of the code of conduct complaints made against me and the findings of the Local Government Disciplinary Committee in relation to this complaint.
• A Code of Conduct complaint was made against me in regards to a Facebook comment made on January 31 and comment on the Alice Springs News on the same date.
• The complaint was lodged on April 5 by a resident of Alice Springs alleging I had breached the Alice Springs Town Council Code of Conduct.
• I knew the allegations were vexatious and frivolous and sought to clear my name. I ran as a candidate in the council election because I wanted to stand up for the things that I believed in, I didn’t think that in my first year I’d be facing a Local Government Disciplinary Committee.
• The process was not entirely clear and the Local Government Disciplinary Committee chose a closed door hearing which left me in a confidentiality limbo where I wasn’t sure how much and who I could talk to about the Code of Conduct allegations.
• I have since found out that the allegation against me was made at the same time as code of conduct complaints were being made against other elected members of the Alice Springs Town Council.
• Replying to the Code of Conduct complaint and then having to respond to the applicant’s response has been stressful and has impacted negatively on my family, work and my ability to effectively carry out my duties as a Councillor.
• Despite this, I continued to bring important business to Council – moving forward on the Town Masterplan, working towards reconciliation with the raising of the Aboriginal flag on ANZAC Hill, consulting the community on the use of ANZAC Oval and developing a Multicultural Policy.
• The findings of the Committee were released [not publicly] in early October, finding that the complaint was vexatious and frivolous.
• More than six months of my life has been plagued with this stressful process playing in the background – being uncertain and unable to talk about it. Fearing legal ramifications from the smallest Facebook comment that had become pages and pages of complaints. I have always believed in freedom of speech, but with a family, small budget and working hard to make ends meet – this complaint had a silencing impact on my usual forthright approach to important issues.
• I am happy that the right outcome was delivered, however I am left feeling that there is a much better way to do this that ensures Code of Conduct complaints are handled locally before a Local Government Disciplinary Committee is established. This whole process has been disruptive to my life.
• Processes are needed to ensure baseless, frivolous and vexatious allegations – like that served on me – do not cause harm to councillors or disable their ability to perform their important role in representing the community.
• LGANT has recently passed motions supporting a similar process.
• I am seeking advice as to what my options are in regards to speaking further on this issue.
• I will continue to work with my Council colleagues for a better Alice and continue to stand up for victims of bullying and intimidation.
Only some questions put this morning by the Alice Springs News Online about the code of conduct issue have been answered by Sueanne McCumstie, Media Manager, Corporate Communications Department of Housing and Community Development. It appears it is now at the discretion of the independent disciplinary committee members, whose identity is suppressed, to provide answers to the remaining questions, including who is the complainant and what was the complaint.
Here is the full text of the exchange:–
Who was the complainant? What was the complaint?
The department treats any complaint as confidential unless otherwise instructed by the independent disciplinary committee considering the complaint.
What was the finding?
One complaint was made against Cr Jimmy Cocking which has been dismissed.
Who were the commissioners?
The committee is independent to the department. Your email asking for the names and contact details of the members of the disciplinary committee will be forwarded to the disciplinary committee. It is up to its members if they choose to respond.
Why was the matter not heard in a place to which the public has access, as it is clearly provided for in the Act? (Please note: There must be a public interest for any decision to hear sections of the enquiry in camera.)
When a code of conduct complaint is made it is referred to an independent disciplinary committee formed under section 80 of the Local Government Act. The Act states, if a disciplinary committee decides to proceed to hear a complaint, it is a matter for the committee as to whether a complaint will be heard publically or will be treated as confidential. In some cases the matter is dealt with on the papers and a formal hearing is not held.