TWO residents caused an uproar during the Wellington Shire Council meeting on Tuesday night, after making allegations of bullying and “cover-ups”.
The kerfuffle was sparked when mayor Carolyn Crossley prevented them from outlining allegations against particular councillors and council officials.
After the meeting ended, one of the complainants made a threatening gesture to a senior council officer.
During the gallery comments section of the meeting, Longford resident John McLinden expressed concern that council didn’t like him.
“There doesn’t seem to be much development going on a Longford or Golden Beach, Paradise Beach — I wonder if it’s because of me,” he said to council.
“I’d like to know if that could be the cause.
“I don’t suppose any of you are game enough to tell me,” he lamented.
“I’m just wondering what’s going on, because I ring councillors and they don’t answer the call, they don’t call me back.
“Is that because you don’t like me?”
Mr McLinden then alleged a particular councillor told him to “ ‘very rude something’ off”.
“I couldn’t repeat it,” Mr McLinden said.
Mayor Crossley then stepped in, urging Mr McLinden to take his complaint to the Victorian Ombudsman.
“You’ve been told if you have a particular complaints about individuals of the process through the Ombudsman,” Cr Crossley said.
“This is not the forum to just slag off people.”
Mr McLinden responded, “will you please address the truth? I’m after the truth.”
Crooked River farmer Keith Mills, who last year resigned as a shire councillor after only 12 months in the position, then attempted to present council with two witness statements, outlying examples of alleged bullying.
“The definition of bullying may be open to interpretation, and include physical, verbal or emotional abuse, harassment or coercion,” he said.
“You can also include the unreasonable use of power by one group or individual over another group or individual of lesser power.
“Officers within the Wellington Shire Council have certain powers far greater than those of the ordinary citizen.
“It is my belief it is incumbent on these officers to exercise those powers very carefully, and in a fair manner so as to not enter in the realm of bullying.”
At this point, the mayor interrupted, encouraging Mr Mills to take his concerns to the Ombudsman.
“I think I’ll take my complaint to the public,” Mr Mills responded, before Mr McLinden yelled from the gallery, accusing council of a “cover up”.
A third person, Meerlieu resident Neil Barraclough, was also asked not to name people after he questioned a response to a prior inquiry.
Mayor Crossley then called an end to the meeting, to which Mr Mills responded by yelling from the gallery, “runaway, runaway ... put your heads in the sand”.
“Deal with it yourselves, it’s not the Ombudsman’s job — you have created the situation, you fix it,” Mr Mills said.
With the meeting officially over, the argument continued, with witnesses seeing Mr McLinden raise his fists to a council general manager, before quickly backing down.
On numerous occasions, council has had to deal with complaints from Mr Mills and Mr McLinden, who were both recently fined in court.
Mr Mills was fined $20,000, plus costs, for allowing his cattle to stray onto neighbouring farms.
Mr Mills, who was not present for that court hearing, now owes almost $60,000 in fines and costs.
Mr McLinden was fined $1500, plus costs, after attempting a burn-off on his Golden Beach property without a permit.
He is a former Rosedale Shire councillor.