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TRC councillor accused of misconduct

THE TABLELANDS Regional Council Division 1 Councillor’s conduct has come under the microscope after a TRC resident’s complaint against Kate Eden was tabled at their council meeting a fortnight ago.

Ronda Leitner was the complainant in the matter, alleging that Cr Eden displayed “aggressive, intimidating and bully-like behaviour” when speaking with her over the phone.

Ms Leitner said the alleged phone conversation occurred in July and was in relation to the proposed solar farm on Marnane Rd, Tolga.

“I spoke with Cr Eden the night before the council meeting and she told me that she hadn’t read over the submissions,” she said.

“The week following the meeting, I called Deputy Mayor Katrina Mellick to thank her for voting against the solar farm, and during that conversation I relayed to her that Cr Eden had informed me that she hadn’t read over the submissions.”

Ms Leitner claims shortly thereafter she received an unacceptable and abusive phone call from Cr Eden.

“She called me a liar and claimed that she can proof-read any submissions in ten minutes due to her six years of tertiary education,” Ms Leitner said.

“Given she is representing ratepayers, greater queries should be made into the submissions of large projects such as solar farms as it effects a number of households in the region.

“In my opinion Cr Eden’s behaviour was in severe breach of the code of conduct and she should be justly held to account.

“Ratepayers should be treated with respect and in a non-discriminatory manner and shouldn’t be subjected to intimidation from a councillor.”

Ms Leitner not only had issues with Cr Eden’s conduct, as she was unhappy with how the matter was dealt with at the TRC meeting on September 26 – taking particular issue with her identity remaining anonymous throughout the agenda item.

“TRC did not even advise me that the item was listed – I was informed by a member of the public,” she said.

“I was not asked if I wanted my identity protected even though I was sitting in the room at the time.

“The alleged ‘protection’ was merely used to avoid embarrassment to Cr Eden, so the public would not know what she had done; it certainly gave no justice to me.”

Ms Leitner said it was accepted as a complaint of substance by the Office of the Independent Commissioner and referred to the TRC for action.

“Prior to the TRC meeting, the CEO asked if I would ‘be satisfied’ with an apology – I declined unless it was to be made public,” she said.

“This offer would not have been made to me if there was nothing to apologise for.”

As it pertains to the reasons behind Ms Leitner’s anonymity, TRC Chief Executive Officer Justin Commons said council had not received the complainant’s permission to release their name.

“Unless and until both parties agree to the release, we will continue to treat the report as confidential in line with our Investigation Policy and Standing Orders that are in turn consistent with the model policy and orders issued by the State Government,” he said.

“Councillor Eden has provided her consent for the report to be released, but to date the complainant has refused consent.”

Mr Commons said mediation in such circumstances is generally used to resolve conflict and avoid investigations.

“The process for dealing with complaints against Councillors is set out in the Local Government Act 2009 and under section 150P a complaint must be referred to Office of the Independent Assessor,” he said.

“The Office of the Independent Assessor subsequently referred the complaint to Council for investigation and, in accordance with our Investigation Policy, it was investigated by the Mayor.”

Despite questions from Division 6 Councillor Owen Byrnes regarding Cr Eden’s alleged history of engaging in unmannerly phone calls in the past, the report was rejected as it found Cr Eden did not fail to:

1. To discharge the councillor’s responsibilities by contravening the behavioural standard, namely, to carry out responsibilities conscientiouslyand in the best interested of the council and community; or

2. To treat people in a reasonable, just and respectful and non-discriminatory way: or

3. To ensure that conduct does not reflect adversely on the reputation of council

“The complainant has been advised that, if they are unsatisfied with our response, they have the right to seek advice from the Ombudsman,” Mr Commons said.

Cr Eden said she denies the allegations made against her and that she doesn’t recall engaging in a conversation with the complainant.

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