A FEMALE Cockburn councillor was threatened with rape last week as a small but angry group invaded a council meeting called to consider sanctions against deputy mayor Lee-Anne Smith.
Although Cr Smith narrowly survived the no-confidence motion, as the meeting drew to a close some of her supporters climbed over a rope between the public gallery and chamber, vowing revenge on her opponents.
The group threatened CEO Stephen Cain that his “day is coming”, while central ward councillor Phil Eva was accused of being a puppet master with “his hand up” colleague Chontelle Sands.
Cr Sands later told the Herald she heard other “disgusting” comments during the melee.
“I was very concerned I could not get out of the chamber without getting past these unruly and threatening people,” Cr Sands said.
When councillors later tried to leave the building and drive home, the security guard who was supposed to be manning the front door had disappeared and was later found out in the car park making a phone call.
Cr Sands says complaints about the security breach were lodged with the CEO and the council’s policies are now to be reviewed, while the security company is being replaced.
She criticised the running of the meeting, saying mayor Logan Howlett and Mr Cain should have ejected the unruly group earlier in the meeting when they became disruptive.
“They were warned a couple of times, but nothing was done,” Cr Sands said, noting she’d been shouted down several times while trying to speak.
“The safety of councillors is paramount.”
Cr Sands had been a particular target of the group because she initiated the special meeting by submitting a motion early in August calling for a vote of no-confidence in Cr Smith.
It was sparked by a Facebook post by Cr Smith in which she apologised to landowners affected by the widening of Jandakot Road for failing to get the council to delay the project at its July meeting.
Some landowners want more time to consider the potential for sub-division, which could lift the compensation they’d receive from the council for land taken for the road.
In her post, Cr Smith noted who’d supported her decision; and by inference those opposed.
Cr Sands took that as a criticism of a council decision, which is a breach of its code of conduct.
But at the meeting councillor Sands said that wasn’t the only issue with the deputy mayor’s behaviour, claiming she’d been rude to colleagues, staff and community members.
She called for Cr Smith to be stripped of her deputy mayoral allowance for six months and to be be suspended from all council standing committees and references groups, and external bodies where she represents Cockburn.
Initially her supporters thought they had the numbers, but Cr Michael Separovich says he changed his mind after council veteran Kevin Allen spoke against the motion.
Cr Allen, who described the proceedings as “grandstanding”, said the council’s standing committees were functioning well and the recommended punitive measures wouldn’t solve the council’s problems. He said the motion might also give the local government department the impression the council was becoming dysfunctional.
As a result of Cr Separovich’s switch, the vote was tied 5 – 5 and the motion lapsed for want of a majority.
Separately to the meeting, the Herald heard from another councillor that there had been an attempt to trial mediation, but Cr Smith wouldn’t participate because she has launched legal action against another councillor.
That was revealed to be Cr Lara Kirkwood at last week’s meeting, with one of Cr Smith’s supporters asking during question time whether she had a conflict of interest sitting in on the no-confidence motion.
Cr Smith is also believed to have launched legal action against former ally Tony Toledo and the Success Community Group over comments made during the last election when she suggested boycotting a meet-the-candidates forum organised by the group.
But aside from all that, what was driving Cr Smith’s supporters in the public gallery is her support for the Perth Freight Link. With the death of former councillor Steve Portelli, who was the local champion of the project, the group who’ve now rebranded themselves as the Fish Army say Cr Smith is the only representative on the council prepared to listen to their views.
But the army’s choice of Facebook profiles featuring fish armed with machine guns had some community members concerned about last week’s meeting, with several people apparently calling the council beforehand warning there could be trouble.
The Herald tried to contact Cr Smith, but the call went straight through to a message bank saying she was “away” and directing all queries to the council.
by STEVE GRANT