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3 January, 2022

Councillor complaint dismissed

A COMPLAINT by a former CEO against a Tablelands Regional councillor has been investigated and dismissed and the organisation has made it clear it wants to “move on”.

By Robyn Holmes

Cr David Clifton.

The complaint, from former CEO Bob Owen, was lodged with the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) in December last year, alleging that Cr David Clifton had breached the Code of Conduct for Councillors in Queensland. 

He claimed the breaches occurred during a pre-agenda meeting, by sending an email on 15 December 2020, and/or during a conversation with a council officer in the days prior to a council meeting on 17 December 2020. 

Mr Owen claimed Cr Clifton responded “aggressively” when he mentioned that there had been some negative public feedback about the Acting Mayor’s use of the phrase “bleeding” when referring to council’s operations and finances. 

He claims Cr Clifton stated in “a loud and aggressive manner ‘why should we stop using the phrase?’, then got out of your seat, slapped yourself across the face, said ‘I need to get out of here,’ then walked out of the room”. 

Cr Clifton then allegedly returned to the boardroom, “stood leaning slightly forward, with his feet apart and arms extended by his side, glaring at (Mr Owen)”. 

The complaint also alleged Cr Clifton had “asked a council officer not to look at (you)” when he read out an apology during the upcoming council meeting on 17 December 2020, or he would “burst out laughing”. The apology by Cr Clifton was the outcome of a separate complaint process which was unrelated to this matter. 

On 15 December, Cr Clifton sent an email to Mr Owen, which was copied to other officers, in which he expressed concerns regarding a five-year contract relating to a pilot project and “inferred” that Mr Owen had “acted improperly when signing a contract during a previous council term and in accordance with a resolution of the previous council”. 

The OIA referred the matter to council to be dealt with and recommended it be referred to an external agency for investigation. The investigation was completed and a report sent to council last month. 

Having considered the evidence and analysis, it was concluded there was no evidence that Councillor Clifton had engaged in inappropriate conduct. 

At last week’s meeting, Tablelands Mayor Rod Marti said the matter had taken 12 months to resolve. 

“This has been ongoing for 12 months to get to this point – I think it’s time we put this behind us and moved on,” he said. 

Cr Clifton said the matter had led to a wide ranging investigation with interviews of many officers and councillors and had cost the TRC ratepayers a considerable sum of money. 

“In addition, my sense of wellbeing and confidence has been considerably challenged,” he said. 

“I welcome the changes that we, the Council, have made in addressing some organisation and staff issues and I am confident that we are moving positively forward with trust and mutual understanding of our role in representing and supporting the TRC community. 

“Elected councillors ought to be able to get on with their job of representing the community and asking the right questions without being dragged through legal channels by disgruntled officers. 

“Several of the charges were really trivial and ought not have been put up by officers nor been considered by the OIA. 

“Charges such as these are one of the reasons that the Office of Independent Assessment is currently undergoing an inquiry. 

I’m very glad that this matter has, at last, been resolved with the decision that there was no misconduct to answer and I very much appreciate the support given me by my councillor colleagues.”

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