Four Shire of Capel councillors investigated by department

Council breach causes backlash

The actions of three councillors during an ordinary council meeting back in May, has resulted in further discontent within the Shire of Capel.

On May 27, councillors Doug Kitchen, Sebastian Schiano and Murray Scott walked out of a council meeting during a closed door item.

Section 5.21 of the Local Government Act states that each council member that is present at a meeting is required to vote and it is an offence if a council member fails to do so.

The action resulted in a complaint being made to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and a subsequent investigation.

The investigation found that the councillors did breach the Local Government Act.

However, due to their prior good behaviour the department would take no further action against the councillors.

In a letter to the Shire of Capel president Michael Southwell, the department's Manager, Investigations and Assessment Unit Ron Murphy said if the councillors were to make a future breach of similar nature, then an investigation may follow.

Mr Southwell said he was disappointed in the actions of the councillors and the outcome of the complaint.

"It shows contempt for the processes of council and is a slap in the face to council and the people who elected them," he said.

The shire president said the incident felt orchestrated by the councillors and it was 'mystifying' that a serious breach of the Act was committed without consequences.

Councillor Kitchen said he accepted the department's findings and would continue to represent the ratepayers the best he could.

"I am disappointed that I felt like I was put in the situation where I felt like that was the only action I could take," he said.

Councillor Schiano said he acted on legal advice that was provided to all the shire councillors.

However Cr Schiano said he expected there would be another investigation into how a letter from the department was made available to the public.

"Making the letter public is showing intent to adversely impact other councillors, which is a breach of our code of conduct," he said.

The department told the Mail that the Act section 5.123 it is an offence for persons involved in a complaint to disclose information in relation to complaints unless sanctions had been applied.

Councillor Murray Scott was contacted for comment but did not reply.