Councillor Steve Jenkins did not take his Local Government oath in front of colleagues, council staff and the general public last month. It surprised those gathered, and it also created a sense of unease throughout the Shire - people questioned why would an elected member do this?
In response to these concerns, Cr Jenkins has responded.
“I took (swore) my oath before an Australian and Dorrigo-based legal practitioner, Nikki Dickings on Thursday, September 22,” he said.
“Ms Dickings is a lawyer in the Supreme Court of NSW and a solicitor and barrister in the High Court of Australia.
“She was the second candidate in my councillor group at the recent elections, and my swearing of the oath was also witnessed by my father.
“It is apparent though that this has caused some people a degree of consternation and angst … however, as someone who swore an oath in front of a Commissioner of Police over three decades ago, and who has taken an oath on multiple occasions since, I take the swearing of an oath quite seriously.
“This extends to the person before whom I swear an oath.”
The NSW Government amended the Local Government Act 1993 Act No. 30 prior to the September 10 election, by introducing Section 233A.
Thus the ‘oath and affirmation for councillors’, is new to the Local Government procedure and was designed in an endeavour to increase accountability within local government.
“This section requires councillors to take an oath/affirmation sometime between being declared elected by the returning officer, and attending the next scheduled meeting of the council,” Cr Jenkins said.
“If not taken during this time, the councillor is not eligible to attend the meeting, and is taken to be absent without leave. If they have still not taken their oath/affirmation after three months, then they are declared to no longer be a councillor.
“Section 233A provides three categories of people before whom a councillor is able to take their oath/affirmation, namely the council’s general manager, an Australian legal practitioner, or a Justice of the Peace.
“It is at the discretion of individual councillor which of these they take their oath before.
“So, without any disrespect intended to any general manager, I believe the legislators in NSW got it wrong when they included council general managers as a category of people before whom councillors can take their oath.
“My rationale for this is that, from my experience, an oath is taken before someone who is more senior in some respect to the person taking the oath, or at least someone independent to the individual or their organisation.
“A general manager is not more senior to a councillor, nor independent. In fact, the general manager is an employee of the councillors – the only person that councillors employ.
“During the term of the general manager’s contract, councillors are required to monitor the performance of the general manager, and, dependent upon circumstances, may have to decide to terminate or not renew their contract.
“Therefore, by allowing councillors to take their oath before a general manager of the council, they are allowing them to do so before their employee.
“This could in some situations create an inference that the councillor is then subservient to the general manager, which is definitely not the case.
“This is not, in my opinion, an acceptable situation. I therefore chose to take my oath before someone different as aforementioned.
“Whilst I appreciate that some people might not like or accept my position and actions in relation to this matter, I stand by my decision.
“I will also be drafting a submission to the Minister for Local Government for consideration of having the act amended to remove council general managers as a category of people before whom councillors can take their oath.”