Will a guard help SJ get meetings under control?

Will a guard help SJ get meetings under control?

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Stock images © lsantilli.

The public gallery’s behaviour at Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale council meetings has deteriorated so badly the shire has been forced to hire security.

President Keith Ellis confirmed a security guard would be present at the next two ordinary council meetings.

Monday night’s meeting demised to shouting, personal insults and accusations of council corruption by people in the gallery.

During a deputation a resident twice crossed the rope barrier separating councillors and staff from the public gallery despite being told he was not allowed to.

The resident, a candidate for the upcoming local government elections, called out and attempted to argue with councillors during council proceedings.

Mr Ellis called the gallery to order on several occasions but declined to close the meeting until all the items on the council’s agenda had been dealt with.

At one point during one of the night’s many verbal altercations Mr Ellis told a resident to ‘shut up’ before immediately apologising and retracting his statement.

Following the meeting Mr Ellis said some members of the public had attempted to deliberately sabotage the meeting in an attempt to force him to close it down.

He said he consulted with the shire’s chief executive Richard Gorbunow, who had agreed the meeting should continue regardless because of the number of items on the agenda that evening.

“This was planned but we just had too much to do,” he said.

“We’ll be hiring a security guard and they (the public) will be given fair warning if they act disorderly or disruptively and then they’ll be asked to leave and we’ll get on with the meeting.”

Mr Ellis said the behaviour created an unfair environment for councillors and staff to work in and at least one staff member felt ‘highly intimidated’ at the meeting.

Local Government Minister Tony Simpson said under the local government act the presiding member was able to close down meetings if control over the meeting had been lost.

He said while it was ‘not a good look’ for council election candidates to be breaking council rules, there was nothing in place prohibiting people who had done so from standing for council.

Behaviour from the public gallery had increasingly become an issue for the council for the last 18 months, with meetings shut down several times.

In June the council voted to introduce restrictions on question time to curb the amount of questions and statements being used to launch personal attacks against councillors and staff.

In July a meeting had to be prematurely closed following outbursts from the public gallery.