Councillor conduct

Findings that Mt Barker deputy Mayor Samantha Jones breached a Councillor Code of Conduct shows that elected members must tread extremely carefully when dealing with disputes with members of the public.
In an internal council email from November 10 last year, Cr Jones claimed that Mt Barker man Brian Calvert – a man she had never met – was one of three people she believed had followed her to her home in a car.
Mr Calvert had been in disputes with Cr Jones over other council matters in the past via Facebook, but authorities deemed the action of Cr Jones to name him as a suspect, despite collecting no evidence to support the claim, was ‘reckless’.
Mr Calvert denies any wrongdoing.
Cr Jones told the investigation that the alleged incident had left her flustered and worried and that she hadn’t thought to take any photos or note the vehicle’s registration number.
After a lengthy and no-doubt costly Local Government Association investigation, Cr Jones was found to have breached a Code of Conduct by making a baseless claim.
Cr Jones wrote the email never intending it to be made public, but it is naive in the extreme to believe that a message to around 20 people would remain private.
Every person has a right to their own beliefs and opinions, but no individual should make unsubstantiated claims about another – particularly involving claims of criminal activity.
The legal cost of the complaint will likely be borne by the council, meaning the community will fork out thousands of dollars to cover lawyers’ bills.
It would not be unreasonable to request Cr Jones apologise not just to Mr Calvert, but to the community for the unnecessary expenditure her ill-considered actions caused.
This should be a lesson to all elected members.
Online engagement between residents and councillors can be constructive and should be encouraged, but it clearly can also lead to dangerous territory.
Perhaps the situation is an example of the relevance of an old adage entirely appropriate in this digital world – don’t write anything about anyone you wouldn’t say to their face.

1 Comment on "Councillor conduct"

  1. Julie Vincent | July 11, 2020 at 8:27 am | Reply

    Councillor Samantha Jones and the Mount Barker Council should be made to make a full public apology and a full public retraction relating to these false accusations. As your article states, these unsubstantiated claims about another are claims of criminal activity.
    What a horrific experience for this gentleman to endure. Has anyone considered how distressing this experience must be for him?
    Since when were Local Government/Councils and Councillors given the status of being ‘above the law’? Why are they permitted to treat members of the public with such disrespect and contempt? Why does no one hold them accountable?

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