Fluoride Action Network

Tenterfield: Defamation allegations against Deputy Mayor

Source: Tenterfield Star | July 8th, 2009 | By ERIC PARNIS
Location: Australia

The family of the man who was the subject of alleged defamatory remarks from Tenterfield Shire Deputy Mayor Nick De Stefani has expressed disappointment with the outcome of the review that cleared the councillor of any wrongdoing.

Debby Riley spoke to the Tenterfield Star on behalf of her father Albert Dains last week, saying that she and her family were unhappy with the outcome of a ‘flawed’ review process that left them feeling embarrassed, distressed and as though they had been left out in the cold.

It is alleged that Councillor de Stefani made a slanderous comment against her father during a debate on fluoridation at the council’s March ordinary meeting.

Ms Riley had been concerned with reports detailing various councillors’ opinions on the issue of fluoridation during an earlier meeting at which Councillor De Stefani had said that it should not matter if there was a malfunction in the software controlling levels because you could not die from drinking one cup of coffee.

Ms Riley wrote to her representative councillor, Lawrie West, with a carbon copy addressed to Councillor De Stefani to say that a small increase in fluoride levels could in fact harm people like her father, who suffers chronic kidney disease and needs to be placed on a dialysis machine for four hours every second day.

Although Ms Riley was not present at the March ordinary meeting, she was informed by another Tenterfield Shire councillor who was present at the meeting that Councillor De Stefani had allegedly made defamatory comments concerning her father.

It was alleged that Councillor De Stefani said that Tenterfield Shire Council should not be held responsible for protecting Mr Dains’ health by not adding fluoride to the town’s water supply because his kidney disease was self-inflicted – a claim Ms Riley strongly refutes.

“My father does not deserve to have his name dragged in the mud and be disrespected like he has been,” she said.

“My father is a ratepayer here and he deserves respect.”

For his part, Councillor De Stefani denies that he made remarks as attributed to him. He acknowledged that he participated in the debate, but said that he made no specific remarks in reference to any particular resident and that his views had been misrepresented to Mr Dains and Ms Riley.

A sole reviewer was called in to investigate if Councillor De Stefani was in breach of the Tenterfield Shire Council’s Code of Conduct.

The reviewer considered possible breaches of a number of points in the code including Councillor De Stefani’s obligations to act with impartiality and respect, and to act without discrimination and prejudice in serving the community.

The reviewer’s report was presented and tabled at Council’s June ordinary meeting held on Monday, June 29. The report found that any evidence submitted by Ms Riley was hearsay evidence because she was not present when the alleged remarks were made and that Councillor De Stefani be considered innocent until proven guilty.

The reviewer concluded that the comments attributed to Councillor De Stefani could not be upheld because there was insufficient evidence that the comments were ever made as described in the complaint.

Ms Riley said that the outcome proved nothing because it was based on a flawed and incomplete process. Though there were plans to interview Ms Riley on the matter, the interview had to be called off due to the harsh weather conditions in mid May that led to flooding in the region. To compensate for this, the reviewer received a written submission from Ms Riley.

The report was also based on statements from three other sources. Councillor De Stefani submitted a written report and was interviewed in person by the reviewer. As chairman of the meeting, Mayor Toby Smith was requested to submit a written report and another councillor, who was not named in the report, submitted the fourth written account.

The unnamed councillor’s report sided with Ms Riley and Councillor Smith’s report stated that the Mayor had no recollection of the statements attributed to Councillor De Stefani

Ms Riley said she thought the final report was incomplete and should not have been admissible when it was tabled at the June ordinary meeting because she was never interviewed and because other councillors who have said they heard the remark were not contacted for input.

As reported in the Tenterfield Star last week, three councillors present at the June ordinary meeting also expressed their dissatisfaction with the process, which they also described as flawed.

Ms Riley said she felt as though she had no options available for her to voice her concerns and hold discussions with council and its members. She has been in contact with various members of council via email and written letters but feels that a face-to-face meeting could have settled the matter before it came to this level.

“I want another review, and I want to meet with the reviewer together with Councillor De Stefani and talk in a professional setting. I’ve felt distressed and embarrassed because I have not have the proper right of reply,” she said.

Ms Riley said she intends to follow up the issue with complaints to a number of politicians at the state and federal level, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Anti-Discrimination Commission, the Australian Kidney Foundation and even Steve Price on 2GB Radio Sydney