Rockingham Mayor addresses social media ‘mistruths’

Rockingham Mayor addresses social media ‘mistruths’

MAYOR Barry Sammels moved to clarify what he said were mistruths circulating on social media earlier this month relating to councillors and acting chief executive Bob Jeans.

Addressing a packed gallery at Tuesday’s Council meeting, he exercised his right to announce ‘a matter of relevance to the business of council’.

It related to complaints against Councillor Matt Whitfield and his conduct on social media and in public.

Cr Whitfield claimed on social media complaints were only made against him due to his scrutiny of the City’s planning service, the former chief executive’s farewell function and the AKO trip.

Cr Sammels said the commentary on social media had been extraordinary.

“Social media commentary has suggested that complaints have only been made because of a proposed review of the planning service or because of criticism of the proposed Sister City delegation to Ako, Japan and the farewell function for the former CEO,” Cr Sammels said.

“Inferences have been made suggesting that the City, Council and other Councillors are not promoting transparency, openness and accountability. This is not true.

“Social media commentary on the Code of Conduct complaints in question contain many inaccuracies, misleading statements, omission of context, and absence of the full facts.

“I am saddened and disappointed at the manner in which these matters have been reported.

“Many of my fellow councillors have expressed similar disappointment.

“I have not seen or experienced anything like it in my time as an elected member.”

Cr Sammels invited Cr Whitfield to allow the City to publish the complaints against him.

“As these matters have now been publicly raised in social media, I ask that Cr Whitfield provide written permission for the publication of all of the letters issued by the City regarding the conduct the subject of the complaint,” he said.

“I will ensure they are published, in full, on the City’s webpage.

“In this way, the community can be appraised of the full facts relating to these matters.”

After the Council meeting Cr Whitfield admitted he had not been explicitly told to shut down his social media accounts.

“I’ve received over 20 official letters – they didn’t tell me per se – they haven’t categorically told me not to report on social media only put on what’s official,” he said.

“I have been prohibited from putting the truth on social media or anything that causes the City detriment.

“Residents have a right to know the good and the bad.”

Excerpt from Mayor’s address to council:

“The City has been under significant scrutiny through social media and to a lesser extent the press, in respect to actions taken on alleged code of conduct breaches by certain elected members. The City has been conscious not to jeopardise the opportunity for natural justice and due process for those elected members subject to these complaints.

I do believe, however, that it is time to clarify a number of misconceptions and untruths that have been aired publicly.

In respect to the use of social media by elected members, I have this to say –

The City has not made any request for a Councillor to close down their social media or digital presence.

The City has not sought to impede the ability of Councillors to be transparent to the community.

However, the City has requested that Councillors abide by legally binding requirements of the Local Government (Rules of Conduct) Regulations 2007 when communicating with constituents and undertaking their obligations as an elected member.”