Don’t look sideways – and keep quiet

By Jeremy Sollars

Senior managers of the Southern Downs Regional Council routinely make formal records of up-the-street encounters with members of the public who have made complaints about the council.

The Free Times has sighted material obtained through Right To Information (RTI) which shows detailed file notes are made on seemingly trivial, day-to-day interactions with individuals in the community who have made complaints about councillors and council employees.

The file notes are created in emails sent to and retained in the council’s records management system, known as Electronic Content Management or ECM.

The notes are meticulous in detail and document times and locations of encounters in public between senior council managers and the members of the public in question – with some verging on allegations of stalking, including descriptions of “aggressive staring” towards the council officials.

They provide a fascinating – and somewhat creepy – insight into the way in which the council appears to be safeguarding itself when it comes to complaints and criticism from the public.

The following are selected examples from a significant range of material sighted by the Free Times.

This, entered by a senior council manager in 2017 (names deliberately withheld) –

“On Tuesday 8 August at approximately 1.00pm I entered the Rose City Shopping Centre. When walking past Woolworths towards Big W (X), (X) and I believe (X’s) son were standing near the entrance of Woolworths. Both (X) and (X) saw me and stared at me aggressively. I continued to walk past them as I was going to Big W to purchase a book.

Approximately 5 minutes later, I left Big W and walked back towards Woolworths as I was wanting to purchase some goods. When returning, I could see the son was continually turning around. When he saw me he turned back towards (X) and (X) and it looked as though he said something to them however I cannot be certain of this. All three of them looked at me when I went past.

I entered Woolworths and within about 5 minutes (X) and her son walked past me. I continued with my purchases and left Woolworths.”

Another file note – entered in the council’s systems by chief executive officer (CEO) David Keenan – even records what he ate for lunch on the day in question, 4 August 2017 –

“I went to purchase my lunch today. I purchased some sushi and then went to Woolworths. On the way to the supermarket I noticed (X) on her way out of the supermarket with a trolley. I believe she saw me. I went into the supermarket and made my purchase. On the way out I noticed that (X) appeared ready and waiting to give me a nasty, aggressive stare and a scowl. I did not respond.

Please note that this is not the first occasion (X) has waited for me outside the supermarket and on other occasions (X) or her sister have followed me around the supermarket.”

The members of the public concerned have told the Free Times they vehemently deny all such suggestions.

They also say they have been deeply disturbed by the amount of material relating to their day to day activities held in secret in the council’s systems and only made available through RTI.

Other records detail members of the public present in the public gallery during council meetings – ie (from David Keenan to Human Resources) on 24 May 2017 – “(X) in Gallery”.

The RTI material also reveals council officers keep detailed records of social media posts made by members of the public which mention and are critical of the council, including the name of the person who made the post and when it went online.

Council officers are understood to also routinely make sound recordings of meetings with the public, and video and sound recordings are taken of public meetings involving councillors and council staff.

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Police complaint …

The council recently lodged a complaint with police against Southern Downs State MP James Lister.

The council would not release any details of the complaint to the media but Mr Lister last week strongly denied any wrong-doing.

It is understood the complaint related to comments made by Mr Lister in front of a council employee at a recent public meeting after the MP discovered the staffer was recording him on a smartphone.

Queensland Police Media would not comment due to what a spokeswoman said were “privacy reasons” but the Free Times understands the Warwick Police are not pursuing the matter.

 

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