Apology warranted after councillor code of conduct breach

Cr Peter Yench will have to apologise to his fellow councillors and undertake meeting practice training after he was “found guilty” of breaching Cobar Shire Council’s code of conduct.

The findings of an independent investigation into the alleged breach, which occurred at the June 2017 Ordinary Council Meeting, were discussed at last Thursday’s Ordinary Council Meeting.

Cr Yench had requested the matter be discussed in open council in front of the public gallery (rather than Committee of the Whole as expected) as he believed it was “a storm in a teacup”.

Prior to the councillors’ deliberations, Cr Yench was given five minutes to put forward his side of the matter.

“This has gone far enough. It’s cost the ratepayers $8,500,” Cr Yench said.

“It’s something that should never have happened.

“I’m quite happy to apologise, and Madam Mayor I will apologise to you and also council right this minute to say I’m sorry.

“What I said perhaps came out wrong,” Cr Yench offered.

“It was only a matter of a joke, it wasn’t vindictive.

“Greg Martin straight away said I don’t like being called a crook and straight away I turned around and looked him in the eye and said I apologise for that,” Cr Yench recalled from the discussion at the June 2017 meeting.

“It’s just all been beat up out of proportion.

“I’d like to see it end tonight,” he said.

As per the Local Government protocol Cr Yench and Cr Lillane Brady (who reported the breach) did not take part in the later deliberations.

The remaining eight councillors debated the recommendations of the independent investigator in front of the public gallery.

Cr Peter Maxwell moved that the recommendations of the independent investigation be adopted.

Cr Julie Payne somewhat defended Cr Yench on the matter saying as Cr Yench had just made a verbal apology and if he would agree to attending meeting procedure training, the matter should be dropped.

Cr Payne also said that due to the prolonged time lapse of the breach of June 2017 until  this discussion, she found it difficult to recall the full details of the conversation in question.

Cr Bob Sinclair said he could recall the discussion very well and echoed Cr Maxwell’s recommendation.

Cr Sinclair said he felt Cr Yench’s conduct had been a bad “pattern of behaviour for a long time”.

“This should be recommended to the Office of Local Government for further investigation,” Cr Sinclair said.

Cr Payne described Cr Yench as “a very passionate man”.

“We all know what Cr Yench is like.

“I don’t think he’s malicious,” Cr Payne said.

She said Cr Yench had been a councillor for many years who had been voted in by the Cobar electorate.

She said his style of debate was well  known to councillors and the public for many years.

Council’s general manager Peter Vlatko  reminded councillors that they needed to  only debate the matter at hand and should not make comparisons to the past when there  previously was no code of conduct for meetings.

Councillors voted in favour of the independent investigator’s recommendation of requesting a written apology from Cr Yench and that he undertake meeting procedure training.

Councillors also voted 5-3 in favour of referring the matter to the Office of Local Government for further investigations.