DESPITE the bloodletting of a state inquiry, tensions in Cockburn council remain high and some councillors won’t speak to each other outside the chamber, prompting one to publicly question whether it’s affecting their decision-making.
“This is where we end up with decisions that aren’t quite being done in the best interest of the ratepayers,” Cockburn councillor Michael Separovich said.
“It makes it a bit harder to work for what you’re actually putting forward.”
The City of Cockburn faced a local government inquiry last year into issues of inappropriate workplace behaviour and unhealthy workplace culture. The inquiry recommended all councillors undergo training and mediation.
But there are conflicting opinions on whether that’s been effective.
Some councillors say that the recommendations have been followed and are proving effective.
Claims of further division within the council are “simply not true”, Cockburn councillor Chontelle Stone said.
However, others say there are rifts which have not healed, and that the relationships between councillors could be much closer than they are currently.
“There are issues on council that have never been resolved. It’s disappointing,” one councillor said.
Cr Separovich said some councillors would vote against items based on who put them forward, rather than judging them on their merits.
“There are certain elected members who, if I called them, will not answer the phone,” Cr Separovich said.
The divisions were clear at last month’s ordinary council meeting, with a community member’s critique from the public gallery noting continual interruptions and dirty looks.
The issues have been ongoing since 2019, when then-CEO Stephen Cain took sick leave and lodged a bullying complaint to FairWork, saying the workplace was too stressful to be healthy.
Mr Cain was put on special paid leave for three months while his claim was investigated.
Cockburn spent $190,000 on lawyers dealing with the complaint.
The day after Mr Cain’s complaint was dismissed due to too little evidence, he was sacked.
Also during late 2019, ex-councillor Lee-Anne Smith launched private legal proceedings against two fellow councillors, Chontelle Stone and Lara Kirkwood.
Cr Smith was successful in her defamation case against Cr Kirkwood, but failed against Cr Stone.
In 2020 the Local Government Standards Panel required Cr Smith to apologise to Cr Stone for false allegations, but Cr Smith refused. This resulted in a $6000 fine and a two-month suspension.
Cr Smith did not recentest this election having moved to the state’s North West.
Throughout this period, mayor Logan Howlett’s ability to control the behaviour of his fellow councillors and keep order during meetings was thrown into question. The inquiry findings reflected these concerns.
The council was having so many issues that in 2020 Local Government Minister David Templeman launched the inquiry, which was finalised in May 2021.
But a common theme amongst councillors the Herald spoke to was that the final report didn’t address some of their biggest concerns.
In a council meeting in mid last year, Mr Howlett said he intended to challenge the results of the inquiry as a private citizen. Mr Howlett did not respond to any requests for comment on the issue, either privately or as mayor.
by ISABELLA SMITH