March 25, 2021
The fate of a South Burnett councillor who is the subject of a complaint by a member of the public will be decided solely by Mayor Brett Otto.
Council CEO Mark Pitt explained to Wednesday’s general meeting this was the only course of action left to Council by law after councillors repeatedly declared conflicts of interest, leaving Council without a quorum.
Cr Scott Henschen’s former election campaign manager, Judy Schulz, has nominated herself on social media as the complainant, although she has not been named by Council.
Cr Henschen (Division 6) has admitted in open Council that he is the subject of the complaint.
Investigations into the complaint have already been carried out by the Councillor Conduct Tribunal, with the matter referred back to Council.
Mayor Otto told southburnett.com.au he had asked the Council’s Corporate Governance department to prepare a portfolio of all the relevant documents for his consideration.
“I will then sit down and consider it fairly and make an informed decision,” he said.
Mayor Otto said he hoped to make a decision by next Wednesday.
He would then inform CEO Mark Pitt, who would write to all the affected parties.
Earlier this month, an application by Ms Schulz seeking an order against Cr Henschen was briefly mentioned in Kingaroy Magistrates Court.
This has been listed for mention on April 9 although Ms Schulz has admitted in a video posted online that she believes her application will fail.
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On January 20, Cr Danita Potter, Cr Gavin Jones and Cr Roz Frohloff made declarable conflict of interest statements in regards to Item 18.2 in the Confidential section of the Agenda for that Council meeting.
Item 18.2 stated: “Alleged inappropriate Councillor Conduct Complaint Investigation and Recommendation. This matter is considered to be confidential under Section 254J-f of the Local Government Regulation, and the Council is satisfied that discussion of this matter in an open meeting would, on balance, be contrary to the public interest as it deals with matters that may directly affect the health and safety of an individual or a group of individuals.”
Cr Scott Henschen told the same meeting he had a declarable conflict of interest because he had been referred to the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA).
Cr Kathy Duff and Mayor Brett Otto also said they had declarable conflicts of interest due to previous complaints lodged against them.
This meant six of the seven councillors declared a conflict of interest and intended to stay away from the meeting.
CEO Mark Pitt said his recommended course of action, in accordance with the legislation, was to refer the decision in regards to Agenda Item 18.2 to the Local Government Minister for consideration.
A motion to that effect was moved and passed unanimously.
At a meeting on February 24, Item 18.1 in the Confidential section replicated Item 18.2 from the January 20 meeting.
Again six of the seven councillors made declarations of conflict of interest.
Cr Potter said the complainant in relation to the investigation in Item 18.1 was a participant in a petition calling for her dismissal as well as the dismissal of Crs Jones, Frohloff and Henschen. The petition was now with the Office of the Independent Assessor.
Cr Henschen declared he was the councillor that was the subject of the investigation.
Cr Kathy Duff and Mayor Brett Otto also said they had declarable conflicts of interest due to previous complaints lodged against them to the OIA by the complainant.
Mr Pitt said that regrettably Council had received no formal response to its request from the January 20 meeting.
He suggested he re-submit the matter to the Local Government Minister seeking Ministerial approvals for Crs Otto, Jones, Frohloff, Potter and Duff to participate in deciding this matter.
A motion to this effect was moved and passed unanimously.
On March 26, four of the seven councillors again made declarations of a conflict of interest.
However, Crs Duff and Otto reported they had now received a letter from the Local Government Minister approving their participation in deciding the matter.
This still left Council with a lack of a quorum to rule on the complaint.
Mr Pitt said the only course available was to delegate consideration of the complaint to either the Mayor or a Council Standing Committee. However, the latter option was not suitable as there would not be a quorum at any Standing Committee. This left the delegation to the Mayor as the only pathway forward.
The resolution to delegate the decision-making to the Mayor was put to a vote – with Cr Scott Henschen absent from the room – and was passed 4-1, with Mayor Otto voting against it. (Cr Roz Frohloff was absent from the meeting).
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The fact Mayor Brett Otto has been left to decide this matter alone – outside a Council meeting – has left councillors feeling uncomfortable, something admitted by both Mayor Brett Otto and Cr Kathy Duff at Wednesday’s meeting.
Mayor Otto actually voted against the resolution.
The reasons for the outcome are complicated and best explained by CEO Mark Pitt. Here is the explanation from Wednesday’s meeting:
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