The Horsham Rural City Council mayor has been absolved of breaching the prescribed Local Government Standards of Conduct by an Internal Arbitration Process.
In a matter referred for internal arbitration by Cr Ian Ross, arbiter Noel Harvey OAM declared there were no findings of misconduct by mayor Robyn Gulline during a conversation she had with community member Bart Turgoose.
"As there have been no breaches of the prescribed standards of conduct, the Arbiter has dismissed the application, " Mr Harvey said.
Mr Harvey said he accepted the conversation between Cr Gulline and Mr Turgoose may have been robust.
Still, the evidence did not support Cr Ross' allegations that Cr Gulline's behaviour was abusive, threatening, or intimidating.
He also said it was important to note that nothing in the Standards of Conduct is intended to limit, restrict or detract from robust public debate in a democracy.
Cr Gulline said when addressing the arbitration, her intent in speaking to Mr Turgoose was to assist him in his campaign for election to the council.
She had advised him that Facebook posts that were not-factual and could damage his campaign.
The application against Cr Gulline was made by Cr Ian Ross, under s143 of the Local Government Act 2020 (the Act), for an internal arbitration process to make a finding of misconduct against Cr Robyn Gulline in relation to an exchange between Cr Gulline, in her role as Mayor of Horsham Rural City Council and Mr Turgoose on March 31, 2023.
A second claim was made concerning Cr Gulline's attendance at a City Band function and a subsequent encounter on April 23, 2023, but it was withdrawn during the hearing.
The application by Cr Ross claimed Mr Turgoose had been chastised and intimidated by the mayor during two conversations between them.
Still, during questioning, Mr Turgoose could not recall much of what was discussed between the mayor and himself and acknowledged his recollections may not have been entirely accurate.
Cr Ross acknowledged he did not witness the conversations.
He made the application against Cr Gulline based on a letter he received from Mr Turgoose.
No witnesses heard the conversations, but several had seen the interaction.
Cr Ross acknowledged the evidence presented was only based on body language because no one had heard the conversation other than Mr Turgoose.
Based on the evidence provided by the applicant in relation to body language, the Arbiter was unable to find it constituted a breach of the Standards of Conduct.
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"The aftermath of the incident saw witnesses reaching out to check on my well-being, and emphasising the impact of the incident on me," Mr Turgoose said.
"I want to affirm my commitment to truth and integrity throughout this process. I stand firm in my belief that I have spoken the truth, and that I have done what's right," he said.
The Standards of Conduct are set out in Schedule 1 to the Local Government Regulations 2020.
The Horsham Rural City Council has been contacted for comment.
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