Ombudsman slams Redland City Council

Redland City Council CEO Bill Lyon and Mayor Karen Williams made decisions which have been criticised by the Ombudsman

CEO Bill Lyon and Mayor Karen Williams

Questions about the integrity of decision-making by Redland City Council’s Mayor Karen Williams, CEO Bill Lyon and General Counsel Andrew Ross are raised in a scathing report by the Ombudsman.

What the Ombudsman said

The Ombudsman is an independent officer, reporting directly to State Parliament, who investigates complaints about the administrative actions of public sector agencies.

In his report, the Ombudsman says:

The purpose of commencing this investigation was to explore how council responded to negative comments by its constituents on social media, and to decide whether these actions were fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found that Redland City Council’s actions in threatening defamation proceedings against two residents were unreasonable.

The investigation further found that Council’s actions in threatening to take defamation action against the complainants were:

• based on a lack of clear analysis regarding who, if anybody, was defamed by the comments

• not based on instructions from any of the allegedly defamed parties

• not a reasonable or proportional response to what was relatively minor criticism of council’s decisions

The Ombudsman found instances where Council’s decision-making, including decisions regarding expenditure on legal advice, were not adequately documented.

Comments by the Ombudsman in his report include:

The fact that key decisions were not documented makes it difficult for me to assess these decisions and make a clear determination about many of the issues I identified in this report. Failing to document a decision also undermines its integrity. As a government agency, council is required under the Public Records Act to ensure its decisions are documented to uphold the public sector’s values of accountability and transparency.

Council also spent public money to obtain external legal advice to determine whether the comments made by Complainant A and Complainant B were defamatory. Given the lack of documented decisions and other significant flaws I have identified in council’s approach, it would be difficult to say this was an appropriate use of public funds.

Whose account should be trusted?

The Ombudsman’s report notes contradictions between accounts given by the Mayor, CEO and General Counsel regarding the extent to which the Mayor was involved in making decisions which led to unreasonable letters being sent to residents.

From the interviews conducted with the Mayor, the CEO and General Counsel, it is clear that no one shared a consistent view about the approach taken by council.

The Ombudsman’s recommendations

Recommendations by the Ombudsman include that Council:

  • write to both complainants and withdraw the threat to take legal action in response to the comments published on social media
  • write to Complainant B and acknowledge that the decision to write to her employer was based on the mistaken belief she had published defamatory material using her professional email account

The Ombudsman’s findings and recommendations are set out in The Redland City Council Defamation Report which was made public in early January 2017.

For context, the Ombudsman’s 2015/16 Annual Report notes that he received more than 7,000 specific complaints and conducted more than 1,100 investigations.

Very occasionally (2 to 4 times per year) the Ombudsman publishes investigative reports (like the one just published about Redland City Council) to inform the public “about serious systemic issues and make recommendations to improve decision-making practices”.

What Council should be doing

Learning from mistakes is an important part of organisational improvement but it seems Redland City Council is in denial, refusing to accept that its behaviour was unreasonable and its decision making processes inadequate.

The divisional councillors, who appear to have had no involvement in this sorry saga, should be demanding full accountability from the Mayor and CEO at the next Council general meeting on Wednesday 25 January.

The full Council should consider if the Ombudsman’s recommendations have yet been complied with, and discuss if Council should go further and formally apologise to the residents who were sent threatening letters.

The Ombudsman’s report questions the truthfulness of one or more of the Mayor, CEO and General Counsel. This should greatly concern the Redlands community and is a matter which councillors should explore further.

Given the lack of integrity exposed by the Ombudsman, councillors must address the need for improvements to how decisions are made and documented at Redland City Council.

 

Redlands2030 – 23 January 2017

Updated at 6:36 pm, by addition of the last two paragraphs in the section with the heading: “The Ombudsman’s recommendations”

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Ombudsman slams Redland City Council

  1. Can we hope the next CEO will manage affairs better than Mr Lyon who went along with sending threatening letters to two residents who, according to Ombudsman’s report, were not guilty of defamation and therefore, should expect an apology for pain and suffering, particularly in view of one resident having had Mayor using her power, to write a letter to employer, with intent to destroy a person’s means of earning a living. As a result, resident lost her job. That kind of punishment is going too far in my view.

  2. Here is a matter where the independent umpire calls on the Council to act….yet the Council does nothing…zilch on the public record.
    No doubt there will be another secret “workshop” with no witnesses no public minutes, no accountability etc where the club will close ranks in the interests of teamwork or whatever the cliche this week

    Forget the defamation sort out the poor administration. It is a sad reflection of how the business is done.

    And the legal officer must be worried about the next bus going past him!

  3. Russell Island Bush Fires
    One road in and out is a criminal action by Redlands City Council in my opinion. So many people were left on the approaching side of the Russell Island Bush Firers pushing to the southern end with no escape rout or plan. Their was no support for the people on the southern side of the fire, and we were left to fend for our selves. I’m asking the Federal and State Government as well as the Redlands City Council and Gold Coast Council to rebuild the landing area at the Southern end of Russell Island with a boat ramp and public jetty. as a means of supporting us when this happens again, as a means of escape and an landing to bring in fire equipment. The RCC needs to open more roads on the Island as a means of assecc, I drove north through the flames in my Nissan Path Finder to find the road closed and no help or information coming to the South end of the island. We have to them accountable for any future loss of life or property.

  4. I made an official complaint. Ignored, factual defamation, warned by official not allowed to pursue, as the case is now closed and I would be liable if I did comment or pursue.
    Democracy in action.

  5. It doesn’t surprise me in the least but sadly there are so many other instances of this Council running rough shod over rate payers opinions, wants, needs and demands. Were the Ombudsman to delve into the very shady deal of the $5,000,000 “loan” to the Raby Bay residents with no accountability whatsoever, massive interest payments, no record keeping of what the money is being used for and why the residents of Raby Bay had no say whatsoever in this whole somewhat unjustifiable loan (that has never been spent but accrues huge interest the residents pay for) I am sure he would raise some eyebrows in Council and Government!

  6. what does it take for RCC to take note and change accordingly in many matters, not just in this defamation threat…?

  7. Cant believe the council still has the CEO on the payroll, and to think the Mayor lobbied for Lyon to stay longer to choose the next CEO. heaven forbid, we don’t want another recycled Bill Lyon, who had no clue on Local Government.
    When do these residents get some compensation for any costs of legal fees, or loss of wage trying to get justice. Is the council so vindictive that it cant even apologise to these people for its actions, especially when one of the residents lost their job due to Council’s actions.

    • The CEO had zero experience other than the Manager of some Telstra Call Centre!!! And this qualifies him to be the CEO of a Council?

      I’d like to see who actually recruited him in the first place and compare his qualifications to other contenders!

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