Redland councillor launches a ferocious attack over council action on Facebook comments

NOT HAPPY: Cr Murray Elliott says council action against residents was a disgrace.
NOT HAPPY: Cr Murray Elliott says council action against residents was a disgrace.

REDLAND city councillor Murray Elliott has labelled council’s action in writing to a resident’s boss to tell them that she had published allegedly defamatory material online “a dog act”.

Cr Elliott told a general meeting it was outrageous that this action and council threats of defamation against people who posted derogatory social media comments about staff and mayor Karen Williams were taken without the matter being referred to all councillors.

He said the extent of council’s action was known to councillors only after Queensland Ombudsman Phil Clarke released a report on the issue in January.

Mr Clarke found that council had acted unreasonably in threatening residents with legal action and contacting a resident’s employer after alleged defamatory comments made in 2015 about officers and Mayor Karen Williams.

The council reaction had been triggered by Facebook comments and a petition that, among other things, said council had “sold out to developers”.

Council today endorsed a policy under which the mayor or chief executive may approve the funding of legal action on behalf of employees or councillors. The policy was recommended by the ombudsman to put in place processes that are transparent and accountable.

MAYOR: Defamation action was taken after social media comments were made against mayor Karen Williams and council staff.

MAYOR: Defamation action was taken after social media comments were made against mayor Karen Williams and council staff.

Cr Elliott said council’s action against residents was the worst thing he had seen the local authority do in 20 years.

Not only were councillors not aware of what had been going on but they also were not consulted on council’s formal reply to the ombudsman.

He said it was astounding that council would act against residents in this way.

“It’s a dog act to write to somebody’s employer,’’ he said. “...I’m appalled that a council would do this to its citizens.”

Cr Elliott said if anything like this occurred again “I want to be told, fair and square”.

He was backed by Cr Paul Bishop and Cr Wendy Boglary.

Cr Golle said while he supported the policy being put in place it was a concern that some residents felt they could go on to certain social media sites and unreasonably disparage councillors.

Often comments were wrong, had no basis and referred to matters that were state or federal decisions over which council had no control.

If genuine allegations against council or councillors were to be made, evidence should be produced and taken to the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Cr Williams said there was a lesson for everyone in the matter and many individuals had been impacted.

She said it was easy for anyone to attack others and what was needed was more respectful behaviour.

In April former councillor Debra Henry called on council to apologise for threatening her with legal action for relatively minor Facebook criticism.

Council was able to provide her with only a single Facebook post that she had made and it did not allude to any council officers. “My Facebook post was nothing other than fair comment,’’ she said.

Outside council a spokesman for Cr Williams, in reply to a question about whether Cr Williams was involved in the decision to send letters to residents, said the action was authorised by former chief executive Bill Lyon.