The culture at the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale had become so ‘toxic’ the Local Government Minister or department may need to intervene according to Murdoch university senior lecturer in politics Dr Ian Cook.
His comments came after Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale president Keith Ellis was involved in a dispute with a number of ratepayers on a facebook page aimed at Darling Downs residents, which escalated to him calling people ‘free loaders’ and ‘keyboard morons.’
Mr Ellis had since apologised and the posts were removed.
The incident followed a turbulent period in the shire’s history, which had seen it adopt restrictions to question time, employ security guards and install CCTV at ordinary council meetings and apply for a restraining order against a local government candidate.
Dr Cook said it was indicative of a toxic environment that would be hard to fix internally.
“Relationships have clearly broken down so badly that some sort of external mediation process seems to be necessary in this circumstance and that’s the responsibility of the Local Government Minister or department,” he said,
“It sounds like you can’t get out of this on your own, the internal players and the way they’ve set things up, the way the conflict is emerging is that people are locked into their position.
“We’re not really talking about issues anymore, they lost any sense of the importance of the issues and now it’s just about personalities, grudges and revenge.
“That’s a toxic environment and it’s hard to see how, without external intervention, people would break out of it.”
Mr Simpson said while he and the Local Government department were aware of the situation there was no investigation into the council.
He said the facebook comments were disappointing behaviour from the presiding member and an inappropriate use of social media.
“The president should be a pillar for the community and he should not be engaged in this kind of thing,” he said.
“Social media really shouldn’t be used for politics either.
“Facebook is better for private use and often when someone directs a question to me on a facebook page or has an issue I will private message them and encourage them to contact my office.”
Mr Simpson was also concerned about the changes the shire had made to question time during ordinary council meetings.
Restrictions were brought into public statement and question time in July residents to submit their questions in writing to the shire by 2pm the day of the meeting.
Since the restrictions were introduced one meeting had been shut down prematurely as a result of a disagreement during question time and on another occasion a member of the public gallery was removed after being told he could not ask a question.
Following a particularly raucous meeting, which saw a ratepayer cross the barrier between councillors and the public gallery twice, the shire began employing a security guard and had installed CCTV cameras.
Mr Simpson said the situation was unfair to ratepayers.
“I have grave concerns about the state of question time,” he said.
“I’m disappointed at how toxic it has become and the lack of transparency.”