From David Carter, Forum Chairman
At the Forum meeting on 12 December 2019 I referred to “Letters received from a lawyer re Mananga building works” and advised that we would provide further information at the appropriate time. I can now let you know the content of the letters, the complaints made against the Forum and Council’s subsequent investigation.
Lawyer’s Letters and Complaint
On 4 December 2019 I received a letter from a lawyer acting for the Quinns’ (the owners of Mananga) informing me that they had “lodged a formal complaint with Council regarding the behaviour of Mr Coughlan and Berry Forum.” The letter referred to “potentially unlawful actions of Mr Coughlan at the Berry Forum meeting on 11 April (2019) and the potential for the Quinns to proceed with a personal action against Mr Coughlan.”
At the April 2019 meeting, Stuart had referred to resident complaints about extensive works observed at Mananga, after Council had previously advised that a stop work order had been issued. The lawyer’s letter referred to “the potential breach of the Quinns’ right to privacy of their personal information” at the meeting, because “the information Mr Coughlan publicly disclosed included the words penalty fines”.
In fact, Council’s standard procedure is to issue a penalty fine when a stop work order is issued, followed by additional fines for failure to comply with the order. Deputy Mayor Patricia White, who attended the April meeting, confirmed there was no breach of privacy
The letter from the Quinns’ lawyer included a series of demands, including a public apology to the Quinns to be made at a Forum meeting and displayed in the Town Crier, the removal of Stuart as Secretary and his permanent disbarring from holding any position with the Forum, and payment of legal fees amounting to $3,800.
Council Investigation of the Quinns’ Complaint
The independent investigation, delayed by the bushfire crisis, has now concluded. The investigator found that the information allegedly ‘disclosed’ by Stuart was in fact, in line with Council’s policy for the publication of information about fines and penalties and that –
The evidence does not substantiate the complaint that Mr Coughlan or the Berry Forum breached any applicable policy or Code of Conduct “