'I STUFFED UP': Mayor said his mistake led to walk out
CLARENCE Valley Mayor Jim Simmons has apologised for a procedural error which led to a councillor walking out of the chamber during a heated debate.
At Tuesday's Clarence Valley Council meeting Cr Greg Clancy accused the council of gagging debate on a proposed Master Plan for the Grafton Regional Airport, before departing from the chamber without seeking leave.
Cr Clancy had moved a motion calling for environmental reports and information about Aboriginal heritage in the area to be included in the plan, which sparked a fierce argument among the councillors.
After about an hour of questions and debate Cr Richie Williamson, moved the motion be put, but this sparked an outbreak of interjections.
"What, are we being gagged right down the line?" interjected Cr Peter Ellem.
Mayor Jim Simmons adjourned the meeting for 10 minutes to seek advice on the matter.
"When the meeting resumed Cr Clancy came in to gather some things and I did apologise to him at the time, but he didn't stay."
Cr Simmons said he didn't think council would act on some strong language Cr Clancy used at the time.
"Greg is a very strong advocate for the environment and I can understand he was disappointed how things were going," he said.
"I'm very disappointed how things panned out and other than some language about gagging debate, I can't really recall what was said."
Cr Simmons blamed himself for the mistaken ruling, which inflamed the situation.
"What I said didn't help the situation and I take full responsibility for that," he said.
He said the council code of meeting practice required councillors to seek permission to leave the chamber early, which Cr Clancy did not do, but he did not think councillors would seek to take this further.
"In my view it would have been better for Greg to stay in the chamber," he said.
"Councillors voted against his motion, 5-3 I think from memory, so it was a close thing."
Cr Simmons said the meeting did approve the plan on a motion from Cr Ellem, which called for involvement of the Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council in any development planning for the site.
After the meeting Cr Clancy said he "lost it" when he thought debate had been gagged.
"I came back in to pick up some stuff I left there and was told I could have my right of reply," he said.
"But it was too late, I was in no fit state to speak to the motion."
He hinted there were other matters prior to this which had led to his state of mind.
I can't be critical of council because of the code of conduct," he said.
"I want to keep going as a councillor, I'm not going to resign over this."
But he said he was considering other options to take the matter further.
Cr Simmon denied there was an attempt to gag Cr Clancy.
"If there has been two speakers for and against an item, any councillor is entitled to call for the motion to be put," he said.
"Cr Clancy had used his five minutes to speak to his motion and used a fair chunk of it to list threatened species found in a 10km radius of the airport.
"We'd had about an hour of questions followed by extensive debate, so Cr Williamson was well within his rights to move what he did.
"It was my error in not allowing the right of reply which made it worse and I take full responsibility for that."