A MELVILLE councillor is standing his ground in a dispute with his own council over whether he completed a penalty imposed by the department of local government.
Cr Steve Kepert was ordered to apologise to the administrator of a Facebook page and the community over a 2018 post criticising the tone of comments being posted, and to undertake a course in being an effective councillor.
He appealed the three findings of minor misconduct, but lost, and two years later the department told CEO Marten Tieleman to take him to the SAT because it hadn’t been provided with evidence to show he’d done the course.
And this is when it started to get messy.
Cr Kepert applied in June 2019 for the council to fund his legal fees for the SAT fight.
He was successful, but a month later his colleagues turned on him when councillors Karen Wheatland, Nicole Robins, Matthew Woodall, June Barton and Clive Robartson put their signatures to a rescission motion; that requires at least a third of the council to even make it onto the agenda.
“We are there to represent the people,” said Cr Wheatland, who hadn’t been at the June meeting that approved the payment and co-ordinated the fightback.
“I believe the councillor needs to prove either that he has or hasn’t done the training and not take the hard-earned money of residents and ratepayers who are doing it tough in these Covid times,” she wrote in the preamble to the motion.
“The proof could just be supplied by the councillor to stop this whole process from happening.”
Cr Kepert also agreed that too much money had been spent on lawyers (he estimates at least $20,000), but his view is that the council is pursuing him unnecessarily anyway.
He also claims the council never asked him directly for any evidence he’d done the training.
“They never bothered to ask me, they simply took legal action against me.”
But mayor George Gear said this was “completely false”.
Mr Gear said he understood Cr Kepert had been asked at least twice for evidence of training. Other than that, the mayor didn’t really want to get involved, saying “I’m not even a part of this”.
Cr Kepert said he met the council’s “legal advisors” at a confidential conference on Thursday August 12, providing them with a statutory declaration affirming he had completed the ordered training, but not receipts.
But from there he was unsure whether the process would go, and whether his term expiring in October would have any impact – an issue no one seemed to have an idea about.
Despite being found guilty of criticising an online community web page, Cr Kepert’s views on government officials using social media to voice opinions has not changed.
“We still have big problems, there are politically motivated people who are unsafe to Melville residents.”
Cr Wheatland said social media was a good platform to speak to the community, but it could get the unwary into trouble and dramas could escalate quickly.
“As long as you adhere to guidelines it’s fine,” she said.