MELVILLE council has adopted a beefed-up legal policy that gives it more scope to sue unruly ratepayers, despite criticism from a councillor that it was unnecessarily “aggressive”.
The heated debate was peppered with points of order and cross-chamber arguments, and left CEO Shane Silcox offended the policy and his revisions were criticised as poorly written and not professional enough by councillor Katy Mair.
The adopted policy gives the council scope to financially support defamation proceedings launched by staff and councillors “in exceptional circumstances”.
It cites as an example; “where a person or organisation is potentially lessening the confidence in the community in the local government by publically (sic) making adverse personal comments about elected members or employees”.
Applecross – Mt Pleasant warder Steve Kepert became quite agitated during the debate, arguing that there were sufficient options under other laws to protect staff and councillors.
“We are not talking about a shield, we are talking about a sword to use ratepayers’ funds to sue them,” he said.
Dr Silcox said the changes came from a policy template provided by the WA Local Government Association.
He said it was worded to ensure the council couldn’t launch arbitrary legal attacks on ratepayers simply because it disagreed with them.
“If you are going to do something unreasonable, the council has course to take action,” Dr Silcox said.
In response to a question from Cr Nick Pazolli, Dr Silcox revealed that in the last year $2500 had been paid out under the existing policy.
The revisions were adopted 6/3, with councillors Mair, Kepert and Pazolli voting against.