It was just 10 minutes from the end of the latest Council meeting, and I was actually thinking what a nice change it would be to write about a meeting that seemed for the first time since the election to be well conducted, co-operative and civil.
But, alas, the mayor couldn’t help herself.
During the second to last Notice of Motion of the year, which called for more police to be brought into the Camden Local Area Command (a motion that was clearly going to be passed unanimously), Cr Lara Symkowiak launched a completely unnecessary and misguided attack on Cr Cindy Cagney. It is unfortunate that without publicly accessible recordings of the meeting, residents can't hear the tone of the exchange as well.
It started when the mayor asked Cr Cagney if she had spoken to local MP Chris Patterson before putting up the notice of motion being discussed.
Cr Symkowiak then launched into a political attack on Cr Cagney, questioning her support for police by saying that it was on public record that Cr Cagney had voted against the building of Narellan Police Station in 2009 and saying Cr Cagney “was very supportive of police now but not then”.
She persisted in the attack suggesting the area needed more police then and that Cr Cagney had opposed this.
To me, it suggested that Cr Cagney’s support for police changed according to which way the wind was blowing and to undermine the councillor's earlier statement that she was putting the motion forward in response to police concerns. It was clearly an attack on Cindy Cagney’s character because it had no bearing on the outcome of the notice of motion.
Cr Cagney tried to call a point of order regarding the reasons for her vote in 2009 and later to suggest that the mayor was being disrespectful towards her and taking pot shots.
She was over-ruled both times by the mayor who later said that she was just stating the facts and letting the public know “that it is great she (Cr Cagney) is supportive of police now”, again implying Cr Cagney hadn't been in the past.
But as it turned out, while Cr Cagney’s vote against the building of the Narellan police station was a fact, the 2009 vote against the station occurred because she was supporting our police back then as well.
Local police did not want to build a station in that spot because it was landlocked and would not have enough parking. “The car park was overflowing from day one,” Cr Cagney said. There were also other concerns.
In short, that vote against the building of Narellan Station was to support local police officers not to go against them as the mayor suggested.
Cr Cagney then said she found it disrespectful that the mayor would take pot shots of this kind.
The mayor immediately interrupted and warned Cr Cagney to “be very careful. I am stating how you voted - this is not a pot shot”. This certainly suggested a threat that some official action would be taken against the councilor – probably along the lines of a code of conduct complaint.
Cr Ashleigh Cagney noted the mayor was being "disrespectful".
Cr Symkowiak then said she simply stated what was on the record. "I am within my rights". (Except she isn't because the mayor twice said that in 2009, Cr Cagney had not supported police - a statement that is not fact).
When Cr Cindy Cagney mused, "I do wonder if the Chair is out of order", Cr Symkowiak then said words to the effect (sadly because we can’t record meetings I cannot confirm the precise quote) – If you have any issues with the running of the meeting you may take them up with me at any time. I am running this directly as in the Code of Conduct.
Except this does not appear to be the case when we look at the Council's Code of Conduct.
It appears that Cr Symkowiak may have broken the council’s code of conduct in this meeting and certainly sailed close to the wind in a meeting we reported on earlier this year.
The code explicitly states under 6.1 (d and e):
“You must not conduct yourself in carrying out your functions in a manner that is likely to bring the Council or holders of civic office into disrepute. Specifically, you must not act in a way that…
(d) is an abuse of power or otherwise amounts to misconduct;
(e) causes, comprises or involves intimidation, harassment or verbal abuse;”
And then again in 6.3 (a): You must (emphasis mine) treat others with respect at all times.
The code explicitly states in 6.7: Camden Council is committed to providing a harmonious work environment, which is conducive to good workplace relations. Harassment, bullying and unacceptable behaviour in the workplace is against the law and will not be tolerated by Camden Council management, employees and Councilors.
There are a number of incidents during meetings since this year’s election where in her position as chair of Camden Council meetings, councilors have almost certainly felt harassed and bullied by the mayor. These do not appear to be one-off incidents.
As this year draws to a close, it is time to draw a line under this kind of behaviour.
We deserve better from our representatives. It is perhaps time for someone to formally move a Code of Conduct complaint against the mayor, so this disruptive behavior does not continue in 2017.
(A full report on the meeting will follow later.)