It was a dramatic meeting of the Snowy Monaro Regional Council last week as police were called on a member of the public, and several councillors, including the deputy mayor, walked out in frustration.
At the meeting in Cooma on Thursday, June 21, Mayor John Rooney called police to attend and remove Nimmitabel businessman Andrew Thaler from the chambers.
Through council lawyers, Cr Rooney had issued Mr Thaler with a letter, dated June 19, outlining a ban on his presence at any meeting of council, a ban Mr Thaler claims is unlawful.
When Mr Thaler attended last week’s public meeting of council in spite of the letter, Cr Rooney held up the start of proceedings for around 45 minutes.
In an interview on ABC South East radio on Wednesday morning, Cr Rooney said “the individual concerned has a history of breaking code of meeting practice” and that it was “thought best to suspend him for a while”.
He acknowledged he was the one who called police when Mr Thaler arrived.
Mr Thaler disputes claims made in that radio interview by Cr Rooney that he was “escorted out by police”, rather that the officers there could only ask him to leave of his own accord, and rejects claims in the letter that he has been abusive necessitating the threat of being treated as a trespasser.
It’s understood the letter came as news to most councillors at Thursday’s meeting, with deputy mayor Lynley Miners and councillors Bob Stewart and John Last “strongly objecting” and then walking out when Cr Rooney further adjourned the meeting’s start.
“The mayor announced pre-meeting he had banned Andrew Thaler from the chambers, but from my perspective, that should’ve been a council decision,” Cr Stewart said this week.
“Technically he might have been right to do it with mayoral privilege, but for transparency of process, all councillors should have been made aware of it beforehand.
“The other issue is he [Cr Rooney] held the meeting up, for 45 minutes we stood around and that got me really frustrated.
“I believe the whole process is out of order.”
Cr Stewart said while he was aware of a prickly history between Mr Thaler and the previous Cooma council and regional administration, the Snowy Monaro Regional Council “is a new entity and I just play the bloke as I see him”.
“I think he’s been a bit out of order at times, but never threatening. It the mayor has concerns or feels threatened by Andrew Thaler then I feel the better process is to put it to council to get a consensus before making a move like this.”
Cr Rooney said disunity in local government was not unexpected, saying factions have existed in the amalgamated regional council since its formation.
Mr Thaler is calling for Cr Rooney to resign, while there is also talk of a possible no confidence motion by other councillors.
“A motion of no confidence is a pointless exercise,” Cr Rooney said on ABC radio.
“Mayors are elected for a two-year term and a motion of no confidence would not affect my current term.”