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Statement from the Independent Assessor Kathleen Florian – Gympie councillor decision

3 December 2020

Gympie Regional Councillor Dan Stewart has been found to have engaged in misconduct for a second time, having again released confidential information via Facebook.

He was fined $700, ordered to make a public admission of misconduct and to attend either counselling or training, at his own expense, into the handling of confidential information and the appropriate use of Facebook.

The ruling by the Councillor Conduct Tribunal (CCT) followed an investigation by the Office of the Independent Assessor (OIA) that found Cr Stewart attended a closed session of a council meeting on 28 August 2019, at which all matters were treated as confidential.

One item under consideration was a request for council support for an annual campervan and motorhome rally that was to be held in October 2020.

It was dealt with in the closed session as the bid to host event was a competitive process, consideration needed to be given to council’s financial commitment, and the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia wished to announce the venue.

Despite the confidentiality requirements, Cr Stewart revealed on his Facebook page, Dan 4 Gympie, that council had agreed to provide the showgrounds for the rally in 2020.

He deleted the information from his post two days after the meeting, and later admitted to the OIA that he should not have published the details.

In handing down its ruling, the CCT noted  “striking similarities” between the case and a previous misconduct finding against Cr Stewart in 2016 after he revealed, on a public Facebook page, that council had discussed the purchase of the Gympie Golf Club in a closed session of an ordinary meeting.

However, it also acknowledged the councillor’s “frank and swift acceptance of the facts” indicated remorse, adding his admission had saved significant time and expense for both the CCT and the OIA.

The CCT said, had Cr Stewart not admitted to his misconduct, a fine of up to $2000 may have been issued in order to dissuade councillors in a similar situation from “betraying the trust of Council and their elected office”.

The CCT noted that while the majority of council decisions are to be made openly and transparently, the confidentiality of some council information should not be undermined lightly as doing so can adversely affect public trust in council decisions and the integrity of council decision making.

The Councillor Conduct Tribunal decision can be found here.

ENDS

Contact OIAmedia@oia.qld.gov.au.

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Last updated: Thursday, Dec 3, 2020