Wednesday 4 March 2009

Is CEO Noel Briggs policeman and jury?

There have been many questions raised at all levels, about who is the policeman, judge and jury of Cairns Regional Council's Code of Conduct - the policy which is meant to form the over-riding guidance for elected officials and staff.

Bryan Law has been following this debate from the day Council's CEO Noel Briggs called a media conference, minutes after Councillor Diane Forsyth climbed off the roof of the now destroyed Cairns Yacht Club building, last October. Forsyth was protesting at the State Government's lack of action on the building's protection.

Bryan Law presents the case that the Forsyth investigation is flawed and serious questions need to be answered. He also raises grave concerns for the on-going actions of the CEO, that appear to undermine our democracy and that of publicly-elected Councillors.


On 26th February 2009 Councillor Diane Forsyth pleaded guilty in the Cairns Magistrates Court to a single charge of trespass. That charge arose out of her act of civil disobedience in October 2008 when she climbed on the roof of the Cairns Yacht Club to focus public attention on the unjust and inappropriate way it was being demolished.

The Magistrate clearly viewed Councillor Forsyth’s action as being at the very lowest end of the scale of criminality, and he made several references to a citizen’s right in this country to engage in political agitation. He decided that no conviction would be recorded against Councillor Forsyth, and that her only punishment would be a six month good behaviour bond which, if breached, would result in the forfeiture of $300. The magistrate noted Councillor Forsyth’s excellent record of behaviour, and expressed confidence that she would discharge the bond without difficulty.

As far as the criminal law is concerned, that’s the end of the matter.

However because Di is also an elected representative on the Cairns Regional Council, she must face what presently amounts to an unfair, even perverted, system of punishment that some people are using to try and harm Councillor Forsyth. The process they are misusing is a complaints system under the Code of Conduct that was adopted for Councillors in April 2008, at the first meeting of the newly elected Council.

The Code of Conduct was initially raised by Council CEO Noel Briggs, at a media conference he conducted on 1th October 2008 - the very morning of Councillor Forsyth’s civil disobedience action. CEO Briggs gave the media and the public a little lecture on how elected Councillors ought behave, and he then invited members of the public to make a complaint about Councillor Forsyth’s behaviour. He did this with no knowledge of civil disobedience, and outside his authority as CEO.

Surprise, surprise. Two complaints duly arrived from political foes of Councillor Forsyth. One was from the demolition contractor seeking financial compensation outside the processes of civil law. The other was from a political activist associated with Councillor Margaret Cochrane.

On receipt of these two complaints, CEO Briggs began Kangaroo Court proceedings against Councillor Forsyth – proceedings in which he acted in a most irresponsible and unethical manner.

CEO Briggs contacted an associate from his days at Mareeba Shire Council and commissioned a report into Councillor Forsyth’s actions. The terms of reference for that report are not public. Cairns ratepayers have paid an undisclosed sum for this report.

There was no real “investigation” of the complaints. No factual information was sought from the Police, the Port Authority, People Against the Demolition of the Cairns Yacht Club (PADYC) or the protest organisers, or any witnesses to the event. The principles of natural justice were flouted. There was no cross-examination of the complainants or their outlandish claims. The investigator relied on the complainants’ uncorroborated story, plus a single report published by the Cairns Post.

The Council report itself was a shambles of uninformed prejudice, lacking any semblance of objectivity or balance. The report pretended to find that seven breaches of the Code of Conduct were committed by Councillor Forsyth – including one that “would have” happened through the protest actions of people unconnected with Councillor Forsyth. In fact such actions did not happen. The report was defamatory and inaccurate. Its production on behalf of Cairns Regional Council was a disgrace.

At the heart of this problem lies the unprofessional administration of Noel Briggs as CEO of Cairns Regional Council, and the misuse of the Code of Conduct by Mr Briggs and some Cairns regional Councillors.

Contrast, for example, the process that CEO Briggs said would be necessary to investigate and report on the leaking of tender material to the Cairns Post by persons unknown in 2008. A complaint about the leaking was made by Mayor Schier and Councillor Forsyth. CEO Briggs estimated that any investigation would require formal interviews with all relevant staff and Councillors, and would cost at least $10,000. The complaint against Councillor Forsyth, on the other hand, could be whipped up quickly by an old mate without bothering about any “formal” nonsense.

Di Forsyth is not the only Councillor to suffer at CEO Briggs’ hands.

Councillor Julia Leu has been the subject of media comment twice now in terms of either the Code of Conduct, or of some undefined standards that CEO Briggs believes elected Councillors ought adhere to. In 2008 Julia was castigated for telling a public meeting of her constituents that she would work for a reversal of the amalgamation of Cairns and Port Douglas. Recently she was again made the object of media comment for putting an anti-amalgamation bumper sticker on her car.

Councillor Kirsten Lesina a couple of weeks ago was publicly criticised by CEO Briggs for constructing a face-book site that contained material Mr Briggs thought inappropriate. Favourite movies and political thinking. Shocking!

Let’s see, Julia Leu, Di Forsyth, and now Councillor Kirsten Lesina. There a pattern emerging. Could it be that CEO Briggs is uncomfortable around assertive and powerful women – or that he thinks they should be put back in the kitchen to get on with cleaning and child-bearing? Surely not. Not in the third Millenium.

In relation to Di Forsyth, CEO Briggs was eventually forced to have the first report withdrawn and disregarded. It was so awful it will never be made public, although it’s still unclear whether the author has been paid by Cairns ratepayers. We will be asking for a full disclosure to see what, if anything, was paid to it's author.

Now that the criminal matter has been dealt with, CEO Briggs plans to conduct a fresh investigation into Councillor Forsyth’s action under the Code of Conduct.

It would be nice to think that CEO Briggs will have this investigation conducted with some regard for the principles of natural justice, or even according to an agreed and publicly available protocol recognising the purpose of the Code and its operation. Alas, there’s no indication that any such approach will be taken.

I’m afraid that CEO Briggs and the Cairns Regional Council are acting in a sloppy and unprofessional manner when it comes to the Code of Conduct, and that the best we can expect will be a kangaroo Court in which politics prevails.

Welcome to Cairns. Put your watches forward one hour, and your mind back two centuries.


T. Asquith said...

Perhaps the ratepayers of Cairns would be better served if CEO Noel Briggs focused more on the performance of his subordinate officers, and less on silly power-play games with elected councillors with whom he has ideological differences. This might ensure that such events as the "North Cairns dengue debacle" cannot occur. And now a dengue death. Heads should roll for such seemingly outright negligence, and perhaps the CEO's should be the first.

Anonymous said...

Like Bjele-Peterson, Noel Briggs has been in a position for too long and is too bloody comfortable.
It is BLATANTLY obvious that this man thinks he is in charge, regardless of the Mayors name.
KB wasn't approached by developers, that wouldn't be right. Noel Briggs is the middle man, you put money in his back pocket - he'll talk to the mayor on your behalf and you'll be right. Rub him the wrong way and he'll rub you out. This man thinks he is a god. He must be dyslexic because he's a dog.
Cairns Regional Council is a business, no different from any other business, except he's not the owner, but he has the reigns and control of everything.
Enough already, seriously, how do we get him out?

Marley and Maeve, Brinsmead

Anonymous said...

Great to see this sort of behaviour goes on elsewhere.. down here on the Fraser Coast we've had all sorts over the past twelve months.

Worst one down here was a councilor in bed with a high ranking (think the top) council officer. Now you'd think her colleagues would blow the whistle especially as it appears she's even had some personal gain from the liason but sadly no.

How much more of this nonsense is going on across the state and when will the people wake up to it and say no more?

Anonymous said...

He gets paid three times what Councillors get paid, yet nobody voted him in!

He controls Council policy instead of piss weak Val doing so, and she was voted in!

KB put him in there (along with all the right wing General Managers), so he (and the GMs) should have automatically gone when KB was voted out!

Anonymous said...

Guess what ... it's called democracy.
You get what you get is what you voted for.
No-one had ever heard of Noel Briggs when KB ran the show.
I mean he was the Mayor.
Mayor Val has the power to put the CEO in his place should she choose.
And he can fight back through the "system" or take the hintand go.
If he fights back then Cairns becomes like the Johnston and Mossman Shires ... "dysfunctional".

Anonymous said...

Hey Quicke, I am not convinced this council is not already "dysfunctional".

But I must agree, you get what you deserve, look at Sno's division.

To be fair, I am not sure Auntie Val would have been voted in had she been honest and run on a "incompetant, spineless, liar, politically naive/retarded" platform. Those who voted for her are the ones who hate her the most, being the one's duped.

Maybe she's scared Briggsy Smurf will slap a 'code of conduct' on her if she puts him in his place. What is his place I wonder? Driving his Peugeot back to the North Pole to help Santa?

Anonymous said...

The CEO was appointed after the former CEO, David Farmer left for Greener pastures. When the new Council was elected, they took a vote on whether to call for applications for the CEO position, or appoint the current CEO. Mayor Val and others voted for applications to be called, but were outvoted by the "leftover Councillors".

Anonymous said...

You're right Jude,

We need to ask the 7 councillors who voted for him to be confirmed in the position why they didn't think there should be a fair and equitable and transparent and open advertising and selection of the position.

Only Val, Julia, Di and Kirsten (all the ones being targeted by Briggs) voted to advertise the role.

I guess we get what we vote for!

T. Asquith said...

Can't agree with Quickie (rarely do): Burn was a dictatorial Mayor who ran a one-man council (always supported by his toadying sycophants of course).
Schier is by nature much more consultative - and that's also the nature of the current council (by necessity - no Unity faction using its numbers to ram through its master's agenda).
The side effect of this more robust and democratic environment is that Briggs's hitherto suppressed ego has now been liberated and illusions of grandeur have flourished. With Burn out of the picture, he now firmly believes he runs council (as against this new bunch of usurpers that is).
Such a mindset manifests itself in the ways we have witnessed with clumsy forays into the clearly "political" arena - behaviour which he would never have dared under Burn.
Briggs is simply a (civil) servant who reports to our elected council. The only difference between he and a parking officer, is his rank. Until he understands this and acts accordingly, he is on shaky ground.

Anonymous said...

Council is very similar to any large private company.
Take Telstra for example.
You have the shareholders, (ratepayers), a board of directors, (Councillors), Chairman of the board, (Mayor), and operationally, a General Manager, (CEO).
The board and chairman are all voted on by the shareholders. The board then appoint a General Manager to run things.
Sol as Telstra CEO certainly involved himself in political matters when it came to running the company efficiently, and this is how it should be.
In Council's case, the matter of who would run Council business was voted on by the ratepayers elected representatives, the councillors.
They chose to keep the incumbent CEO.
That's how democracy works.
Get used to it.

T. Asquith said...

All very illuminating Quickie, though if you can't see the fundamental differences between Telstra and local government, you obviously have a very slender grasp on the concept of democracy. Yes, the council chose to retain Briggs as CEO and, providing he had performed according to the criterion for a CEO, everyone (mayor, councillors, ratepayers) would be satisfied. The problem with Briggs is (to use your Telstra analogy) he considers himself a CEO who has also been appointed to the board. That might be acceptable in large private companies, but in local government; it is NOT how democracy works.

Anonymous said...

Tom ... read Jude's comment, take a deep breath and ...
The "left over Councillors" were all democratically voted in to represent their respective ratepayer's wishes.
Nothing more need be said.

alan said...

From what I know of Noel Briggs, we attribute to him too much. I don't think he has the competence to be involved in such Machiavellian affairs. More likely KB phones him, loads the rifle for his former sycophant to fire. Nothing like a little bit of mischief-making to settle old scores is there.
Stop Press: Channel 7 news (Fri), has just revealed that Briggsy cannot even ensure CRC yards are free of mosquito larva breeding sights, this on top of the North Cairns incident. Great work Noel, give yourself a $400 fine ... and the rest of us; dengue fever.

Anonymous said...

So is CEO Noel Briggs going to issue himself with $400 onspot fine for allowing Dengue Mossies breeding on property under his control as CEO of CRC. Is this a case of maladministration? Should the Department of Health & Ombudsman be taking some action against the CEO Noel Briggs?

Comments Please.

Bill Egan