Councillors warned on discussing EDE

QUEANBEYAN Councillors were warned against attending a public forum on the Ellerton Drive Extension (EDE) last week in case their appearance and comments at such a meeting fell foul of Council's model code of conduct.

At least one councillor has called the move a threat aimed at stopping them talking to constituents about the controversial link road.

The public meeting was held last Thursday night and was hosted for Greenleigh and East Queanbeyan residents by the Queanbeyan Conservation Alliance, a group who opposes the EDE. Council's acting general manager Hugh Percy sent a memo to all councillors ahead of the meeting advising them that their attendance at the meeting could go against the code of conduct.

"Whilst Councillors are entitled to make their own personal decisions on their involvement or otherwise in the above meeting, any Councillor considering attending should consider their obligations under the provisions of the Council's adopted Code of Conduct," Mr Percy wrote.

"My reasons for bringing this to Councillors' attention is merely to remind councillors that this project is a major development that will come before the Council for consideration on the adoption of the findings and recommendations of a Review of Environmental Factors (REF) and as elected officials they must meet the minimum requirements of the adopted Code of Conduct."

The acting general manager cited a clause in the code stating councillors "must ensure that no action, statement or communication between yourself and applicants or objectors conveys any suggestion of willingness to provide improper concessions or preferential treatment" when deciding development applications.

His memo went on to advise that a Council-instigated and independently-chaired public forum on the EDE scheduled for later this month would provide the community "with an opportunity to be informed on this project."

Around 60 people attended last Thursday's forum, but only one Queanbeyan councillor in Cr Brian Brown. Organisers said other councillors had RSVP'd for the meeting but later cancelled following the memo.

Crs Brown and Jamie Cregan both described the memo as "ridiculous" to The Queanbeyan Age this week, saying they'll consult with residents as they see fit. Cr Brown said he took the memo as a threat.

"I found it quite threatening actually," he said. "At best you'd call it a warning, at worst it was an out an out threat."

"What business is it of Council to be telling people who can they talk with, how they can talk with them and when they can talk with them?

"I was elected to listen to the community and meet with as many people and forums and groups as I can and listen to their views and put forward my position," he said.

Cr Cregan said he couldn't attend the meeting due to a prior engagement, but said the memo wouldn't have stopped him attending.

"It wouldn't have stopped me going, because I wouldn't have inferred preferential treatment one way or the other outside of what my opinion is," he said.

"We're supposed to be the community link between the council staff and the community...and to tell us that we can't talk them is absolute rubbish."

The Queanbeyan Age also sought comment from acting general manager Percy as to why the memo was sent to councillors. He said in a statement only that "one of the roles of Councillors is the exercise of regulatory functions and the General Manager provides guidance where required."

Meanwhile, another Councillor, Judith Burfoot, said she interpreted the memo simply as background advice.

"I interpreted that as information only and I did not feel any coercion or pressure not to attend the 'residents of Greenleigh and Queanbeyan East' meeting to discuss the proposed Ellerton Drive Extension," she said.

The Queanbeyan Council-approved Ellerton Drive public forum will be held at the Bicentennial Hall on April 28.