By Michael Giles
IF Cr Jeremy Rich truly wants to do the best thing by the ratepayers, after council resolved to sanction him last Wednesday following an expensive investigation into his alleged objectionable behaviour, presumably towards shire staff, he has two options.
He can comply with the direction of council, “to issue individually addressed written sincere apologies, which are deemed suitable by the mayor and deputy mayor, to each of the staff members involved within 30 days of this resolution”.
That would be the best and cheapest option for the ratepayers, bearing in mind it has already cost us $69,000, if those apologies were accepted by the aggrieved staff and the matter was handled in-house going forward.
Or, with VCAT action pending against the council over the use of the Walkerville Retarding Basin by his family’s farming operation, he can simply resign and avoid having to make those apologies.
Although, by his own admission, his interaction with other councillors, staff and the general public has at least been questionable.
Prior to the decision by council to sanction him for his alleged behaviour, Cr Rich issued an apology of sorts himself at last Wednesday’s council meeting in which he said, among other things: “I therefore apologise to fellow councillors and council staff if anyone perceived that any of my words or actions have caused harm as the intention has never been to be prejudicial… I extend this sentiment to all councillors, council staff and/or community members that may have interpreted any of my words or actions to be prejudicial in any way.”
Together with all of his colleagues, he also signed a general statement that “all councillors now acknowledge that inappropriate behaviour has occurred and that such behaviour must be called out and not ignored”.
So, something has been going on for which he might as well apologise, and put the matter behind him, the council, the staff and the community.
If he simply opts to leave, without apologising, such action could leave the council exposed to a damages’ claims by staff although hopefully they would accept that Cr Rich has fallen on his sword and let it go.
It’s not an option to refuse to apologise and let the matter go forward to an even-more expensive Code of Conduct hearing.
It’s also not an option to wait for a full shift in the powerbase at council when councillor-elect Rosemary Cousin comes on board and, as seems likely, Cr Don Hill is elected as Mayor on Wednesday, November 21 in the hope that council would overturn its decision of October 24.
It would still leave the staff members who’ve raised the complaints aggrieved and the matter unresolved, further dragging on the council’s ability to get some clear air, avoid dismissal by the Minister and to get on with the job.
It’s apologise (or resign), Cr Rich, not further legal action; a tactical, timely and prudent withdrawal if you like that would serve the best interests of the ratepayers, and in the absence of any details about the substance of the complaints, might actually improve your standing in the community on this issue.