City councillor found to have ‘disrespected’ Lord Mayor, staff

Adelaide City councillor Phil Martin twice breached the council’s behavioural code when he publicly accused the CEO of financial mismanagement and claimed the Lord Mayor would be perceived as “impotent”, a legal investigation has found.

Sep 13, 2021, updated Sep 13, 2021
A law firm has found north ward councillor Phil Martin breached the city council's code of conduct. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

A law firm has found north ward councillor Phil Martin breached the city council's code of conduct. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Councillors will tomorrow night discuss whether to order Martin to publicly apologise for his comments, after an investigation by law firm Kelledy Jones determined he breached three code of conduct clauses.

The first offending comment was directed at Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor at a public meeting in March about the now-scrapped east-west bikeway.

During the debate, Martin said the outcome of the council’s vote would “sadly, render our Lord Mayor, in the public’s view, as impotent”.

Verschoor asked Martin to withdraw his comment, but he refused, saying “if the team does not support you then you will be seen as impotent”.

The second comment was directed at then acting CEO Clare Mockler at a meeting in April, during which Martin accused the council of “overspending” and financial “mismanagement” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mockler said at the meeting that she took “great offence” to the comment.

In a report summarising the findings of their investigation, Kelledy Jones lawyers Natasha Jones and Tracy Riddle stated that Martin’s comments were “disrespectful”, but did not constitute bullying or harassing behaviour.

“We find that Cr Martin’s contributions to the debate at the Special Council Meeting and the Committee Meeting, were not limited to ‘robust’ debate, but rather, were disrespectful in nature,” they wrote.

Kelledy Jones has recommended that the council order Martin to make a public apology “for any offence of embarrassment caused by his comments and behaviours”.

Martin told InDaily in a statement that he would consider his response over the coming months.

“If a CEO and her administration table budget papers for a public consultation that do not mention our astronomical and hidden debt because of our mismanagement of operating budgets, is it unreasonable to ask ‘hey haven’t we got a credibility problem here?’,” he said.

“If a Lord Mayor promises and then pleads with her Team Adelaide faction to approve a bike way and her faction snubs their collective noses at her, is it unreasonable to say ‘you will make the Lord Mayor appear powerless, that is politically impotent, if you don’t support her?’.

“I make no bones about this; my job is to keep this Adelaide City Council accountable to our  ratepayers and robust debate and questions are the only tools available at this time.

“I can say ‘sorry’, understanding, whether I feel that’s justified or not, in order to try to get these people to focus on repairing our damaged City or decline to say I’m sorry. I think I know the way ahead.”

The lawyers also investigated a complaint lodged by Deputy Lord Mayor Mary Couros accusing Martin taking “unwelcome” photographs of her at a public forum in February.

Couros reportedly told the lawyers that the alleged behaviour was “very intimidating”

“It made me feel so violated and unsafe that I left the venue earlier than I had intended,” she reportedly said.

But Martin claimed he was taking wider photos of the room and projection screen, as well as selfies of himself, which he sent to “someone who had gifted the money to buy a new and somewhat loud, happy shirt” that he was wearing.

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He reportedly said that at one point during the meeting, he was “shocked to find the complainant was standing behind me and leaning over my shoulder telling me through what I perceived to be clenched teeth and in an audible voice that she wanted me to hand my phone to her”.

Martin was cleared of wrongdoing, with the lawyers stating there were “two accounts of Cr Martins’ actions and behaviours on that evening, which are equally compelling, such that one cannot be preferred over the other in the absence of any corroborating evidence”.

Couros told InDaily that she felt compelled to “call out bad behaviour” and would continue to do so.

“A stronger local government reform is long overdue as currently it allows years of bad behaviour acceptable at a cost to ratepayers,” she said.

“What is most disappointing about this behaviour is that it distracts from our important reforms, city shaping projects and recovery from COVID-19 pandemic at a time when our attention should be completely devoted to the needs of our ratepayers and our community.”

But Martin said he was subjected to a “ferocious political campaign” that set out to “destroy personal reputations”.

“I ask you; have you ever seen anything like this in Local Government?,” he said.

“Team Adelaide, PLEASE can we just get on with advancing the City and save our energy for serious matters.”

The council’s governance manager Mick Petrovski told InDaily that when a council makes a decision in accordance with the Local Government Act and a councillor does not comply, they are at risk of breaching the conduct of conduct again.

InDaily asked the council how much it paid Kelledy Jones to conduct the investigation, but is yet to receive a response.

Martin was last month named as one of the key individuals that perpetrated a toxic culture at Town Hall in a report by law firm EMA legal.

The previously confidential report found the council was “dysfunctional, frustrating and aggressive”.

Martin responded by announcing his intention to challenge Verschoor as a lord mayoral candidate at next year’s local government elections.

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