• Tony Bosworth

Deputy Mayor not stepping aside after Liberal and Labor win no confidence push by a single vote

Liberal and Labor councillors joined forces at last night’s full council meeting to deliver a vote of no confidence – they won it by a single vote – in independent councillor and Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett (MLB) after she was counselled by the Office of Local Government (OLG) and handed a misconduct finding.

The debate lasted an hour before councillors got on to other business.

The independent OLG had made a finding of misconduct earlier this month, albeit with the rider there was “lack of any evidence of dishonesty and/or motivation for personal gain” after Cllr Lyons-Buckett incorrectly made a declaration for a meeting and continued to sit in a meeting she should have left.

That OLG issue was concluded, with no further action required, and it was not passed back to Hawkesbury Council for any action there either, though the OLG decided the matter was sufficiently serious to warrant public disclosure of their ruling.

Mayor Conolly has now twice suggested the Deputy Mayor step aside – once in a letter to her - which he shared with Council’s General Manager – and then through a very public social media post on Facebook.

The Deputy Mayor told the Post today - Wednesday - she won't be stepping down, noting, "the vote reflected an equivalent degree of confidence I enjoyed prior to the Mayoral Minute".

More quotes from the Deputy Mayor at the end of this story.

The Mayoral Minute at last night’s council meeting– a device which allows a Mayor to bring up any subject he or she sees fit – called for a vote of no confidence in the Deputy Mayor and attached the OLG’s Statement of Reasons and says the Deputy Mayor “engaged in Misconduct…”.

There were six public speakers last night, three in favour of the no-confidence motion and three against, and then it was over to councillors.

Deputy Mayor Mary Lyons-Buckett helping out at this year's Hawkesbury Show

Because the matter revolved around her, the Deputy Mayor left the chamber, so was not privy to the discussion, couldn’t comment or vote on it, and knew nothing about what transpired until after the discussion.

Public speakers Matthew Bennett, Jason Pilgrim and Paul Veigal supported the Mayoral Minute, while Christine Paine, Rhonda Hawkins and Peter Ryan spoke against the motion.

Matthew Bennett said transparency was an important part of local government and he couldn’t see why there would be any confidence in the Deputy Mayor following the OLG investigation ruling.

Mr Bennett asked if councillors were satisfied the Deputy Mayor was sufficiently competent to keep her role – he did not believe she was.

Rhonda Hawkins told the meeting she was on the NSW Council of the Institute of Directors for six years and she understood the legal and ethical issues surrounding the matter.

Ms Hawkins said she did not have a personal relationship with Cllr Mary Lyons-Buckett and the Deputy Mayor had not asked her to speak on her behalf.

“In my view she exemplifies all that is good in standing up for our community,” Ms Hawkins said. “Councillors are elected by us to serve us. MLB is genuinely committed to Hawkesbury.

“It is harsh and unnecessary,” she said. “The Deputy Mayor complied fully with the review and admitted she made an error”.

Mayor Patrick Conolly put up the no confidence motion at Tuesday evening's full council meeting

Ms Hawkins said the OLG finding expressly pointed to MLB’s long period of community service. “And importantly there was no evidence of dishonesty.”

“The motion seems to be seriously disproportionate. It is not a pattern of behaviour. The best test in MLB is whether the community decide to re-elect her.

“She is an excellent community leader, respected in the community,” Ms Hawkins said.

Businessman Jason Pilgrim outlined the many companies and businesses he had run and made the point that no-one was above the law.

He gave the example of someone cutting a tree down without council permission and then being fined.

“There must be a penalty applied,” he said.

“I know Mary quite well as a person. I am a-political in this situation. Elected representatives are always held in higher regard than anyone else and ignorance of the law is no excuse,” he said.

“I don’t think we have any choice,” he said. “I think we should draw a line in the sand. I don’t think asking someone to stand down from a position of leadership is a big thing.”

He added, “something must be done. Too many times it looks like people get away with something”.

“If a reprimand is not put in place what does it show? We have an opportunity now to draw a line in the sand.”

Veteran Hawkesbury independent councillor Christine Paine – she retired from Hawkesbury council five years ago – spoke powerfully in favour of MLB and against the Mayor’s motion.

“To say I’m disappointed to see a motion like this before our council would be an understatement,” she said.

“Could it be described as bullying? I think so.

“There is nowhere this can go. Nothing can be done. You can’t sack Cllr Lyons-Buckett. Is there another agenda here? I think so.

“I’m sad that this is a Mayoral Motion as I have a great deal of respect for you Mr Mayor and after you were elected a couple of years ago I spoke glowingly of you in the community and I even suggested to some people that I hope one day you become our state member of parliament. I enjoyed working with you, you show a lot of integrity and common sense.

“I’m beginning to question the last one. Our council should be together for our community, not spending its time and energy trying to pull each other down.

“The local government department said in its report there is no need for an order. It also says this matter should not be referred back to council.

What’s it doing in council?

“Cllr Lyons-Buckett has been an outstanding councillor for the people of the Hawkesbury. One of the best councillors this area has ever had.

“Why this notice of motion tonight? Are you trying to discredit her before the upcoming elections?”

“Councillors, I have been here and experienced what Cllr Lyons-Buckett is going through. When it was my turn to be going through this witch-hunt the ratepayers had to pay $100,000 for the process. It made me more determined to… work for the community and it increased my popularity. And that is what’s going to happen here.

“People don’t like bullies. We the community elected you. Supporting this notice of motion is not smart or intelligent. Put this to bed and vote no.”

Ms Paine added she could not imagine councillors Barry Calvert [Labor] or Liberal Nathan Zamprogno supporting the motion – both did.

Windsor Downs resident Paul Veigal said he took no pleasure in supporting the motion but said, “the finding of misconduct is reason enough to stand aside. To my mind this is not a smear campaign. It’s about doing the right thing.

“This is not a rookie mistake. Cllr Lyons-Buckett has served in this council for a long time,” he said.

“It simply doesn’t pass the pub test. The councillor should have removed herself from the vote. She has made a mistake but it doesn’t excuse it.”

Peter Ryan, who is President of the Pitt Town Progress Association, said he had discussed the issue with all of his members and said “I got a considerable response”.

“This matter has been dealt with,” he said.

OLG are the umpires, he said, and added that the true test that should be applied is – is this [the no-confidence motion] in the best interests of the people of the Hawkesbury.

Mr Ryan pointed out it was clear the Council was split down the middle on many issues.

“That is not good enough,” he said.

“Our council is here to work for the best interests of the people of the Hawkesbury, and nothing else. I think this [the motion] is inappropriate.

“It has been dealt with adequately. It would not be in the best interests of the people of the Hawkesbury to pursue this any further.”

Before councillors spoke, Mayor Conolly cautioned them to be careful to avoid saying anything defamatory, adding it was likely to be an emotive discussion.

He said the Motion was put up by him to test whether council had confidence in its Deputy Mayor. He said it was about “the standard of behaviour that we as a council want to accept”.

As a quick summary he told the chamber the matter of the Kurrajong-Kurmond Investigation Area came before council and MLB decided to stay and vote. That matter was defeated by one vote.

Then the OLG spent 12 months investigating what had occurred and made their finding this month.

The Mayor said he contacted MLB and Council’s General Manager privately –via email – and said he suggested the Deputy Mayor think about her position and consider resigning, “in a show of good faith to the community”.

“I did not get a response to that directly,” he said. “The first response I got from Cllr MLB was a message on her Facebook page, she went and publicised my request and that was followed by posts by councillors aligned to her, some attacking me, and that was before I had heard from Cllr Lyons-Buckett.”

He said there had been no apology and no attempt to take responsibility and he thought councillors would expect more of the Deputy Mayor.

“The key matter is the councillor stayed in the chamber and voted on a matter she shouldn’t have voted on and materially affected the outcome, “ he said.

“Then posts attacking me publicly despite the OLG said it needs to be released publicly.

“I knew when I raised this I would likely be attacked and called a bully, and I’d be harassed online… and I thought long and hard before doing it because it’s not a pleasant experience but it is what people would expect of me in my position. I wouldn’t be scared out of a matter because I knew what the political reaction would be,” he said.

“I’ve been called a bully by Cllr Garrow and now by former councillor Paine.

“I think as a council we should hold leaders to a high standard. This is not a random idea of mine. There are many examples of … politicians who have stood down.”

I knew this would be coming,” he said. “This is all a political stunt, and I’m a bully and this is a witch-hunt, but people do not want us to sweep this under the rug and move on as if nothing has happened. The OLG wanted this released publicly to make a point.”

Liberal councillor Nathan Zamprogno said, “I’m very sad that this has come to council. I want to recognise that there is a strain of politics that can become very personal and very nasty and very partisan and that the proximity of an election does bring out the worst in some people.

“Really want to specifically distance myself from that style of politics, I think the community become disgusted when we act like that. My rejection of that style of vendetta politics may yet rule me out of an ongoing role as a party political representative, but we shall see.”

Cllr Zamprogno said he liked the Deputy Mayor and that she was “generally a woman who has worked hard for the community”.

He said he felt the need to be balanced but he said if a Liberal councillor had made a similar lapse “those who have rushed to defend the Deputy Mayor would be baying for blood”.

He said, “with regret I will be supporting the mayoral minute.”

Greens councillor Danielle Wheeler said the Mayor’s move was “frankly an ineffectual political stunt”.

“You have placed yourself in the position of judge and jury while ignoring the principles of natural justice and you are wasting the ratepayer funded resources of this council,” she said.

“A lot has been said about the community expectation of this council,” Cllr Wheeler said.

“They are sick of the fighting, political division and bullying they witness.

“We have residents who have been disaster affected for more than 18 months, we have flood survivors living in caravans, volunteers with PTSD, food services still providing food hampers, people with compulsory land acquisitions hanging over their heads. And this is what you want to spend the last two months of our term on.

“By putting this Mayoral Minute, you have not put the community first, you have not shown leadership and you have lost my confidence.”

But Labor’s Amanda Kotlash said while it was a situation she wished she could avoid, it wasn’t, and she noted the finding of misconduct by the OLG.

She said the Deputy Mayor, “made the outrageous claim she was bullied out of the mayoral position. She was not bullied out, she was voted out twice,” she said.

“But what has disturbed me the most was she felt it appropriate to capitalise on the bullying, [the Deputy Mayor gave the example of the Dubbo Mayor who was hospitalised after being bullied politically] said they hounded him, she went on to say it is shameful behaviour. The shame is in implying a parallel.

“This is a clearly unworthy attempt. To use someone else’s political misfortune is shameful. I now say in all honesty I no longer have any confidence in the Deputy Mayor."

Cllr Sarah Richards said the Mayoral Minute was vitally important.

“The matter at the heart is whether Cllr Lyons-Buckett has the confidence of this council,” she said.

Cllr Richards said the community expected only those with the highest standards to hold a Deputy Mayor position.

“I believe it is vital to point out this Mayoral Minute is not political,” Cllr Richards said.

“This is in fact about the integrity of the office of Deputy Mayor.”

Independent councillor Pete Reynolds said, “This is obviously political. You did not want Mary to become Deputy Mayor in September. It’s just an extension of that.”

He said the fact was [in the OLG investigation] the Deputy Mayor should have declared a non-pecuniary interest and left the meeting. He said that was the crux of the matter.

“A tiny little difference of opinion is why you want her to step down, “ said Cllr Reynolds.

“There was no evidence of dishonesty – none. No motivation for personal gain – none. He said no reprimand, no suspension, and no removal of fee, and because the Deputy Mayor had already done the counselling course, even that isn’t required.

“You don’t like the decision. You just want a lynching.”

Labor councillor Barry Calvert said he’d received many emails expressing outrage of this Mayoral Minute. He said it was an attempt to bully him out of supporting the Mayoral Minute and that many had tried to bully him in the past but he just dug his heels in.

He said every one of the emails he’d received had “misunderstood what is going on here tonight”.

“In my opinion it’s about the Deputy Mayor and the findings of the OLG,” he said.

“It's about her claiming she was bullied out of the Mayor’s job in 2018. I have not witnessed any bullying, quite the contrary.

“Nobody else went public about this matter [the OLG finding]. If she’d kept quiet about it, it probably would have gone away.”

He claimed MLB was using the situation to raise her own political profile and said, “that is why I have no confidence in the Deputy Mayor”.

The vote of no confidence in the Deputy Mayor passed by one vote - six votes to five.

The six in favour of the Mayoral Minute Motion were councillors Conolly, Richards, Kotlash, Tree, Zamprogno and Calvert.

Against the Motion were five councillors - Reynolds, Ross, Rasmussen, Garrow and Wheeler.

After the vote and an intermission, the Deputy Mayor returned to the meeting.

She told the Post today - Wednesday - she has no intention of stepping aside.

"I am yet to watch the footage of the meeting,"the Deputy Mayor told us.

"With regard to the vote, it reflected an equivalent degree of confidence I enjoyed prior to the Mayoral Minute.

"The Labor and Liberal councillors did not vote me into the position, and their stance has not changed.

"If I had been able to participate in the meeting it would have been 6-6 - the same as the vote for Deputy Mayor.

"I will remain in my position and continue working as hard as possible for the Hawkesbury people.

"In a couple of months, voters can decide who they have confidence in to represent them on Council."

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