By KIERAN FINNANE
Last updated (links, minor edits, photo) 30 April 2019, 11.16 am.
A year-long saga has concluded, almost, with the identity of the Code of Conduct complainants against Councillors Jimmy Cocking and Catherine Satour revealed at last night’s council meeting: Country Liberals candidate Jacinta Price, her mother, former Country Liberals MLA and Minister Bess Price, and father David Price were the complainants in all the matters.
Left: Cr Cocking reading his statement, Cr Satour in foreground, behind him Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson, Cr Eli Melky.
In prepared statements, heavily couched in a legal framework, Crs Cocking and Satour provided their colleagues, and the public, the fullest account yet of this behind-closed-doors process and its upshot.
Both, on separate occasions, had already told council that the complaints had been dismissed but had waited for the appeals period of 28 days to expire, dated from the findings for Cr Satour, before disclosing the further detail. There were no appeals.
Cr Cocking was constrained by Cr Satour’s process because of “a common link” in the matters.
David Price was the complainant against Cr Cocking, alleging that a Facebook comment Cr Cocking had made on his personal Facebook page in defence of Cr Satour breached council’s Code of Conduct in relation to “Behaviour towards Others Generally” (Clause 5.4 of the code) and “Relationship with other members and employees” (5.5).
The Facebook comment followed events that occurred at the council meeting of 29 January 2018, “where police were called by the CEO to assist with order.”
“I was required to provide an extensive initial response to a detailed complaint and then a second response to an even longer counter response from the applicant to my initial reply,” Cr Cocking said last night.
The Local Government Disciplinary Committee established to investigate found that the Facebook post “does not constitute a breach of Clause 5.4 and does not appear to be an unfair or disrespectful comment.
“It is not conduct that which may cause a reasonable person unwarranted offence or embarrassment or give rise to a reasonable suspicion of improper conduct.
“It is not conduct which is unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or discriminatory, and it is not conduct which brings the Alice Springs Town Council, members or employees into disrepute.”
The complaints were dismissed “as frivolous and vexatious.”
Cr Cocking concluded his statement by calling on Mr Price to apologise “to the Alice Springs Town Council and to the office of Councillor, and myself as an individual” for making the frivolous and vexatious complaint against him.
Cr Cocking was informed that Mr Price was a complainant against him on April 5 last year.
By then Cr Satour had been told of two complaints against her: Jacinta Price was named as a complainant on March 22 and Bess Price on 3 April.
These two applications contained multiple complaints, “some of which overlapped and were identical.”
Bess Price’s complaints were in relation to the same clauses as those used by Mr Price in his complaint against Cr Cocking, 5.4 and 5.4.
They concerned a statement made by Cr Satour at the council meeting of 29 January 2018.
Bess Price’s complaints were found to be “misleading, lacking in substance, vexatious and frivolous” and were dismissed.
Jacinta Price made multiple allegations against Cr Satour.
The first was that she had failed to provide a document requested (this was under Clause 5.14 Decision making by members).
The document in question was a “copy of 61 signatures”, that Ms Price requested at a committee meeting of council.
Left: Cr Satour reading her statement, Cr Cocking next to her.
Said Cr Satour last night: “The committee noted – given the seriousness of what amounts to an allegation of dishonesty against me – it was incumbent upon the complainant to ensure she had credible evidence to support her complaint before making such an allegation. The complaint by Jacinta Price about the signatures was found to be ‘grossly mistaken’.”
It was also “vexatious and lacking in substance” and consequently was dismissed.
Jacinta Price also complained that Cr Satour had:
• made false representation to council;
• failed to include all relevant stakeholders in council meetings;
• made a “misrepresentation” in social media and published articles; and,
• made defamatory comments in chambers during public open session.
These complaints were all dismissed as “vexatious and frivolous”.
Jacinta Price had alleged that Cr Satour “disrespected other members and employees of council” and that her behaviour “was part of an extended campaign of intimidation.”
She further alleged that Cr Satour had breached the Code of Conduct when she attempted “to follow up on issues relating to [her, Cr Satour’s] personal security.”
“My concerns for my safety were labelled as unsubstantiated,” Cr Satour said last night.
Cr Satour noted that neither complainant aginst her had lodged an appeal against the findings: “In the absence of an appeal it is taken that the applicants concede the decision of the disciplinary committee and accept the true nature of the findings in their totality for both Code of Conduct complaints.”
Despite the findings and not having appealed the decision, Cr Satour said Jacinta Price continues to make public comments relating to the matters.
She quoted from the Disciplinary Committee’s “determination of facts” in relation to the events of the night of 29 January 2018:
“Given the dynamics of the attendees both during and after the ASTC meeting on January 29, 2018 including being yelled at, sworn at, insulted, called various names at times in a derogatory and or racist and or threatening manner, Cr Satour’s concern for her own safety was a reasonable concern.”
Above: CEO Rex Mooney and Mayor Damien Ryan during discussion of the saga last night.
In relation to complaint 4 (that she had made a “misrepresentation” in social media and published articles) Cr Satour said the committee found she “had a legitimate basis to feel vulnerable and to apprehend fear to [her] own safety following the council meeting of the 29 January 2018.”
The committee found that Cr Satour’s conduct in relation to her “apprehension of fear, including writing to the CEO, seeking assistance from the police, and following up correspondence to the CEO, was not inappropriate conduct.”
Looking visibly relieved at the end of her long statement, Cr Satour said: “I am very pleased that now I am at the end of what has been a very long, very time consuming, very distracting from important council business and a difficult year for me personally and as an elected member.”
Like Cr Cocking, she called on the complainants “to provide an unreserved public apology in writing to the Alice Springs Town Council and to the office of Councillor and myself as an individual to resolve this issue.”
Cr Cocking then moved that council support the request for apologies.
Cr Satour had prefaced her statement by asking whether anyone should declare a conflict of interest. At that stage, nobody did.
After Cr Cocking moved his motion on the apologies, Cr Eli Melky asked CEO Rex Mooney to provide information on what could constitute a conflict of interest in the matter.
Mr Mooney said that former councillor Jacinta Price being a candidate in the forthcoming Federal election could be an area of possible conflict of interest; he did not say for whom.
Cr Jamie de Brenni, who was attending the meeting by phone, being unwell, then declared his conflict of interest. Cr de Brenni is a vice-president of the Country Liberals.
Mayor Damien Ryan said he would also declare a conflict of interest because of his son-in-law, who is the Country Liberals Senate number two candidate, Joshua Burgoyne.
Cr Melky raised two further conflicts, for both Crs Cocking and Satour, as respondents in the matters.
They looked surprised but agreed.
As Cr de Brenni immediately observed, this would leave council without a quorum to resolve the matter of the apologies.
He and the Mayor left the chamber and Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson took the chair.
First there was another matter to deal with, for which Crs Satour and Cocking did not have a conflict of interest, but the Mayor and Cr de Brenni did becaues of their association with the Country Liberals.
This was to do with the, to date, unpaid invoice by council to Senator Nigel Scullion for the reception held on council premises for former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Council had previously determined that the reception was a campaign event for the Country Liberals candidate Jacinta Price and therefore the cost should not be borne by council.
Senator Scullion’s letter accused council of “playing party political games” instead of focussing on “the matters that really matter”, which in his view are that “law and order conditions in Alice Springs continue to deteriorate with reports that long term residents are leaving for fear of their personal safety.”
Left: Senator Scullion. He is not contesting the upcoming election.
He queried the “excessive” invoice for the reception, $2,914.25, but made an offer to pay part of it, to the amount of $1,054.66. This figure was arrived at by subtracting the costs of council staff involved in the reception; they had already been paid, said Senator Scullion.
Cr Glen Auricht wanted to accept the offer, to get the matter over and done with. It was leaving “a worse and worse taste in our mouths” from the Prime Minister’s visit.
Cr Melky however moved a motion to reject the offer and it was carried.
Deputy Mayor Paterson called for a division: Crs Melky, Satour, Cocking and Marli Banks all stood as having voted in favour. This will be recorded in council minutes.
With that Crs Satour and Cocking departed, leaving council not only without a quorum, but without the mover and seconder of the motion regarding apologies from the Price family. Council was therefore unable to address the matter.
Cr Auricht, however, hadn’t quite grasped the situation. He said he had been “shocked” to hear the statements by Crs Cocking and Satour: “I must live under a mushroom,” he said. He said he had “no idea” that this was happening and that it had “dragged on for a year.”
This was an extraordinary statement given the numerous references to the situation both in council and outside it, including a dramatic walkout by four councillors, and the clearly chilling effect on their participation in council business that the process had had on Cr Cocking, initially, and Cr Satour, right up to the dismissal of the complaints.
Cr Auricht said the elected members had “nowhere to move” other than to accept the findings, they couldn’t “act against” them, but he didn’t want to support an apology, seeing it as a “personal conflict” between the elected members concerned and the Price family: “Why do we as a council have to be dragged into this mess?”
Cr Banks responded that council was in the situation through “no fault of [their] own” but that too was the case for Crs Cocking and Satour; she had observed the stresses the process had subjected them to and had experienced the stresses indirectly herself.
The News has contacted Jacinta Price and her parents, inviting their comments.
CORRECTION OF THE RECORD:
The Alice Springs News reported on April 16, following a statement to council by Cr Satour that the complaints against her had been dismissed, that Jacinta Price or people associated with her appeared to be the complainants in the Code of Conduct complaints “against three councillors.” Cr Price appeared to partially confirm that in a text message, which was also reported. In an article on April 22 the News repeated that “she [Jacinta Price] or people associated with her had apparently lodged [complaints] against three fellow councillors.”
Last night’s revelations confirmed that this was right with respect to two councillors, Crs Cocking and Satour, but not three. Neither Jacinta Price nor people associated with her were complainants against the third councillor who was the subject of a Code of Conduct complaint in 2018, Cr Eli Melky.
Cr Melky has not revealed the identity of the complainant against him but CEO Rex Mooney has said that it involved a Council officer. That complaint was also dismissed.
The Alice Springs News hereby corrects the record.