Petition calls on council to apologise to residents threatened with legal action

RESIDENT FIRES UP: Former councillor Debra Henry has ripped into Redland City Council over intimidation of constituents who criticised policies.

RESIDENT FIRES UP: Former councillor Debra Henry has ripped into Redland City Council over intimidation of constituents who criticised policies.

A FORMER councillor has called on Redland City Council to apologise to residents who it threatened with legal action for relatively minor Facebook criticism of council decisions.

Debra Henry told a council meeting that the behaviour of council officers who were involved in the action also should be reviewed and Queensland Ombudsman recommendations implemented.

The Ombudsman found in January that council had acted unreasonably in threatening residents with legal action after alleged defamatory comments about officers and Mayor Karen Williams.

Council also was criticised for contacting a resident’s employer.

Ms Henry, who was one of those legally threatened but not named in the Ombudsman’s report, tabled a petition seeking a number of demands, including that officers’ behaviour be reviewed.

Ms Henry said the legal letter she had received was intimidating and unwarranted.

She was away from home when she received the letter and, when given little time to respond, had no choice but to comply by posting a public apology within three days.

Upon her return, she wrote to council advising that she disputed the allegation of  “continued, untrue, deeply offensive and defamatory material posted on social media”.

Council replied, saying it was responding to “online bullying” which Ms Henry said was not true.

Later council was able to provide her with only a single Facebook post that she had made which did not mention nor allude to any council officers.

“My Facebook post was nothing other than fair comment,’’ she said.

Cr Williams did not respond to Ms Henry’s complaints but a council spokesman said council had not apologised to complainants and the Ombudsman had not recommended it do so.

“However, council has written to Complainant B in accordance with the Ombudsman’s recommendation to explain the basis for its communications to Complainant B’s employer,’’ he said.

“Council also is developing a policy position to guide decision making relating to funding private legal action on behalf of staff or councillors.

“This is subject to further consultation… While council’s response to defamation is consistent with established protocols, defamation laws and independent legal advice, it accepts the Ombudsman’s recommendation to strengthen these protocols through its policy position.’’

Ms Henry said her reputation had been tarnished by council and she was made a pawn in a political game.

She asked council to deal with her petition – signed by 184 people – in a timely manner.

Ms Henry said criticism of council should be seen as constructive and representative of a community which was entitled to be heard rather than silenced.