Cr Brown speaks on Robe Airfield leases

STATEMENT MADE: District Council of Robe deputy mayor Cr Nick Brown made a statement during the most recent council meeting, indicating his actions taken during his meetings with the Robe Airfield Club were in error after being approached by the SA Ombudsman. Picture: FILE

A COUNCILLOR from the District Council of Robe has provided a public statement following his unauthorised involvement with the Robe Airfield and its lease issues.

In the latest District Council of Robe meeting, Robe deputy mayor Cr Nick Brown was required to read a statement which explained his meetings with members of the Robe Airfield Club, which included the club’s president and secretary.

On May 8 2023, Cr Brown was contacted by the SA Ombudsman in regards to complaints made with the Robe Airfield leases.

The alleged actions which were discussed during Cr Brown’s meetings were stated in the form of a complaint to council staff by members of the Robe Airfield Club on February 14 2023.

It was noted at the time of the complaint there had been no council decision to move forward with any of the club’s discussions undertaken by Cr Brown.

They included the council’s approval to commence construction of a fuel installation system, the removal of new lease deadlines, Cr Brown’s personal involvement in redrafting the leases of the airfield which he had stated was approved by the council and a request for club members to call members of the council directly if there were any further issues with building work or leases.

Cr Brown responded to the Ombudsman on May 26 2023, detailing his course of action to resolve the lease issues.

The Ombudsman later replied to Cr Brown’s response on March 18 2024 and indicated his actions were in error, while providing the potential resolution of a public statement.

The Ombudsman and Cr Brown agreed to an early resolution of the matter on April 23 2024 after the Ombudsman’s informant also approved of the resolution.

In his council meeting statement, Cr Brown said he believed he “acted in (the) council’s best interest to attempt to resolve the lease issue”.

He further stated he believed his actions would help protect the council from “potential future legal expenses”.

Cr Brown confirmed he had entered into direct discussions and meetings with Robe Airfield Club officials which included drafting an amended lease agreement before seeking the council’s approval.

He added the meetings with the club were not recorded in the Reports of Elected Members of any of the 2023 council meetings.

Additionally, Cr Brown used his personal email address to correspond with the club’s president and secretary, which violated the council’s Record Management Policy.

District Council of Robe Mayor Lisa Ruffell provided her own statement on the matter during the same council meeting.

Ms Ruffell said she also needed to take responsibility for the situation as she believed more could have been done to help Cr Brown understand the limits of an elected member.

“It is clear that more could have been done to assist Cr Brown in understanding the limits of his role as an elected member and to refrain from undertaking tasks that should have been handled by the council administration,” Ms Ruffell said in her statement.

“Furthermore, it is important to recognise the potential consequences that arise when elected members become involved in operational activities, such as direct contact with parties in contractual negotiations with the council.

“This can lead to misunderstandings and a lack of coordination between elected members and the council’s administration, as we have witnessed in this case.”

Ms Ruffell also reminded councillors of the importance of the Records Management Policy after it had been breached by Cr Brown.

“This practice undermines the integrity of our communication channels and creates the perception of direct and personal lines of communication with certain parties,” she said.

“I take this opportunity to remind all elected members of the requirements contained in the Records Management Policy and the importance of adhering to them.”

Ms Ruffell said she was committed to working closely with the Ombudsman to ensure the events of the Robe Airfield would remain on public record.

“I would like to assure the community that we are fully dedicated to resolving these matters and learning from this experience,” she said.