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"I don't like being controlled" - Cr Big Rob not happy at two council meeting items

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Simon Mumford

15 May 2024, 3:43 AM

"I don't like being controlled" - Cr Big Rob not happy at two council meeting items

During last night's Lismore City Council May meeting, two resolutions were presented through Reports of the General Manager that appeared to cause angst and anger for Councillor Big Rob.

Are they fair and reasonable? You be the judge.

The first was an update to council's Social Media Policy.

The Social Media Policy update, goes back to September 2022 when Council resolved to revise its Social Media Guidelines and Policy. Council's social media policy and guidelines were developed in 2013 when Council first established a Facebook page. It has not been reviewed since 2015 and council believed it was no longer fit for purpose.

Recently, the Office of Local Government (OLG) has developed a Model Social Media Policy, which serves to replace the outdated policy with best practice in mind.

The OLG encouraged all council's to adopt it, but did say council's can 'adapt the policy to suit local circumstances and operating environments or supplement it with their own provisions'.

New points recognise council's use of its Facebook page to promote its own events and news for the community and that social media is a 24/7 channel that makes it difficult to monitor comments at all times.

Part 8 is what caused concern for Cr Rob. It is about the use of social media for private use using council content, this included councillors:

Activities on social media websites are public activities. Even though privacy settings are available, content can still be shared and accessed beyond the intended recipients. The terms and conditions of most social media sites state that all content becomes the property of the site on which it is posted

What constitutes ‘private’ use?

8.1 For the purposes of this policy, a council official’s social media engagement will be considered ‘private use’ when the content they upload:

a) is not associated with, or does not refer to, the Council, any other council officials, contractors, related entities or any other person or organisation providing services to or on behalf of the Council in their official or professional capacities, and

b) is not related to or does not contain information acquired by virtue of their employment or role as a council official

8.2 If a council official chooses to identify themselves as a council official, either directly or indirectly (such as in their user profile), then they will not be deemed to be acting in their private capacity for the purposes of this policy.

Use of social media during work hours

8.3 Not required as 8.4 utilised.

8.4 Council officers who access and engage on social media in their private capacity during work hours must ensure it not does not interfere with the performance of their official duties.

Another serious concern for Cr Rob was Part 3.15 which said that councillors need to advise the General Manager of any social media platforms they administer on which content relating to the council or council officials is or is expected to be uploaded. The councillor must do so within one month of becoming a councillor or seven days of becoming an administrator.

"I certainly will not be complying with it because, as I keep saying to these councillors, the staff do not control the councillors. The tail does not wag the dog. Why the councillors around this table constantly give up our powers and letting staff tell us what to do. It shouldn't be in there. It shouldn't be adopted."

Cr Rob put forward an amendment to remove 3.15 which was seconded by Cr Colby.

In speaking for the amendment, Cr Rob said, "So, I'm not allowed to talk about the council, even though I'm not acting in my role as a councillor. That's what that says. And if you think that that's appropriate, is because you don't like how I operate on social media or how others operate on social media. You think you can silence people like me? All it's going to do is result in a lot of code of conducts coming back where I'm going to be censured, again and again and again, and I'll wear it as a badge of honour because I'm not going to comply with 3.15. Because I'm not going to sit there and let anyone, I haven't let the courts do it, I haven't let the police do it, I certainly won't let council staff tell me what I can administer on social media in my private life."

Cr Rob's amendment was defeated and the original motion of adopting the new social media policy changes was passed 7/3.

The second agenda item was an amendment to the Code of Meeting Practice to limit the number of Notices of Motion and Questions with Notice that could be submitted by a councillor to three (3) notices of motion and three (3) questions of notice per council meeting. 

This was clearly aimed at Cr Rob who had fourteen items listed on last night's council business paper.

The concern for council staff was that an unlimited number of items on the agenda is unmanageable and completing the business paper is unachievable.

Cr Rob said, "This is clearly about me". He went on to say that it is framed in a way to save time as well as restricting democracy. "I don't like being controlled and limited at all. It's a challenge to me to find other ways."

Cr Rob felt the changes would favour groups and parties over individuals, which was also mentioned by Cr Colby but was refuted by Cr Bird when she said a councillor can seek support from other councillors in the chamber to put a notice of motion forward.

Cr Ekins mentioned the fact that public speakers have been limited to four (4) for and four (4) against, so this move seemed reasonable.

The vote was 5/5 and with Cr Guise away, the mayor used his casting vote to pass the motion so the updated Code of Meeting Practice be placed on public exhibition for 28 days and receive submissions for not less than 42 days.

The Social Media Policy update and the Code of Meeting Practice change will affect Cr Rob the most. He clearly sees the changes as staff controlling councillors and doesn't like to be told what to do. The defiance looks like continuing for the next few months before the September Local Council Elections select the next eleven people who will govern for the next four years. Will Cr Rob be one of the eleven?

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