Less than a fortnight after North Sydney Council was rebuked by the Berejiklian government for its petty rivalries, councillors walked out on the mayor as she called for a “line in the sand” to be drawn following a report into the council’s dysfunction.
Nanjing Night Net

North Sydney mayor Jilly Gibson began addressing the chamber on the findings of a public inquiry into the council, when four councillors left their seats and exited the room, leaving Monday night’s meeting temporarily without a quorum.

“It would be good after this if we can put this matter to bed, draw a line in the sand and move on,” Cr Gibson began.

But her colleagues – councillors Melissa Clare, MaryAnn Beregi, Jeff Morris and Zoe Baker – left the chamber as she outlined her views on the “exhausting and harrowing” inquiry process, which she said had “vindicated” her.

“The relentless actions of my protagonists has gone way beyond politics. It’s gone against civility and on many occasions I felt dehumanised,” she said.

The mayor’s speech related to a “performance improvement order” issued by local government minister Gabrielle Upton, which required the council to adopt a suite of recommendations from the inquiry to improve “orderly conduct” among councillors.

Cr Clare, who is also deputy mayor, defended her decision to walk out on the proceedings, labelling the mayor’s speech “lies” and an “exercise in rank hypocrisy.”

“It is disingenuous to say you want to draw a line in the sand and then proceed to maliciously denigrate your elected colleagues from the chair.”

Councillors Beregi, Morris, and Baker each said they supported Cr Clare’s comments when contacted by the Herald.

The episode was indicative of the kind of dysfunction laid bare in the 170-page report by Commissioner Thomas Howard, SC, following the public inquiry last year.

In the report, tabled earlier this month, Commissioner Howard found that the relationship between the majority block of councillors and the mayor was steeped in “personal antipathy”, and marked by an “absence or paucity of any civil discourse outside of council meetings”.

The dysfunction stemmed from the fact that Cr Gibson, who was popularly elected in 2012, had “at no stage enjoyed the support or confidence of a majority group of seven councillors,” the report found.

A review of council meetings spanning December 2013- July 2016 revealed a disorderly and, at times toxic, council meeting culture, characterised by claims and counterclaims of code-of-conduct violations and protocol breaches.

The inquiry also examined the breakdown in relations between the mayor and the former general manager Warrick Winn, which remained “intractable” until Mr Winn resigned in April 2016.

Their acrimonious relationship was also a factor in the council’s decision to strip the mayor of her access to a council vehicle in August 2014, after her car was found with a flat tyre and left parked near a bottleshop over a weekend.

The procedure followed Mr Winn and the councillors was found to be “seriously flawed and unfair”, and “significantly impeded” her capacity to carry out mayoral functions.

On Monday night the council voted to immediately restore Cr Gibson access to a council car.

Commissioner Howard decided against recommending the council be suspended, largely because it had “met its most fundamental performance measures”, including being in a sound financial position.

But his findings prompted a swift reprimand Minister Upton earlier this month.

“Petty rivalries, unruly and childish behaviour in council meetings and shoddy practices must be banished from our Councils forever,” she said.

Cr Gibson announced last week she would contest the North Shore by-election as an independent.

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