Former Southern Downs deputy mayor Ross Bartley.
Former Southern Downs deputy mayor Ross Bartley. Sophie Lester

Ex-deputy mayor cops reprimand over Facebook message

A FORMER Southern Downs councillor has found himself in hot water with a complaint about inappropriate conduct.

Former deputy mayor Ross Bartley was reprimanded by the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning for alleged inappropriate conduct while still an elected councillor.

A complaint against Mr Bartley in June progressed to an investigation by the department on August 31.

A council spokesman said the council-provided email address had been used for activities unrelated to council business during Mr Bartley's time as deputy mayor.

The department investigation concluded on October 3 that the conduct was inappropriate under the Local Government Act.

But Mr Bartley said the investigation had been over a Facebook message he had received during the council elections in 2016.

"Apparently I received, during election time, some messages via Facebook on my council computer," Mr Bartley said.

"I did not send any, it was proven I did not send any, but I happened to receive them. It was always raised about what you could put on Facebook, the content, not to be critical of council.

"I contacted the administrator of that particular Facebook site, Vote 4 Unity... I never, ever sent or responded on my council computer, I only monitored."

The Vote 4 Unity Facebook page in question called on the council to "unite the community and start working together".

Several members of the Southern Downs Residents Action Group and current councillors Yve Stocks and Vic Pennisi are also members of the page. 

Cr Stocks said she had become part of the page solely to refer people to her own campaign page, but did not engage in debate in the group. 

"I did not agree with anything on the page," she said. 

"I was not involved with the group.... I would hate for people to think that was the case." 

Mr Bartley said the complaint made against him may have been reprisal for questioning the council's Invasive Pest Control Scheme.

"The only thing I can come up with is it could be a level of reprisal for my comments regarding the invasive pest control scheme," he said.

"Two questions need to be raised: why was it investigated two years on, and why weren't all councillors of the day, both past and present, investigated?"

Mayor Tracy Dobie said that was "definitely not the case".

"The complaint was handled by the department and not by us as a council," Cr Dobie said.

"I don't know who made the complaint but it has nothing to do with me or the councillors."

A complaint of misconduct made against Cr Pennisi on April 22 2016 was not sustained by a Regional Conduct Review Panel.

The council declined to comment about a complaint made against councillor Cameron Gow on November 25 2016, which was found by the mayor to be inappropriate conduct.