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Rockingham councillor Matthew Whitfield ‘warned over social media’

A Perth councillor claims he is being victimised for speaking out on social media about a divisive $7500 ratepayer-funded send-off for a former chief executive.

City of Rockingham councillor Matthew Whitfield said since raising concerns on Facebook about a $7439 farewell function for former chief executive Andrew Hammond in May he has received 17 official warning letters and been referred twice to the Local Government Standards Panel.

Rockingham does not have a social media policy but councillor behaviour online is subject to Local Government (Rules of Conduct) Regulations 2007 and the city’s code of conduct.

The standards panel complaints relate to various incidents, including one in which Cr Whitfield revealed details of an anonymous flyer placed in councillors’ pigeon-holes criticising him for publicly criticising the farewell function.

The complaint said Cr Whitfield’s post breached regulations because his suggestion that only councillors or city employees had access to the pigeon-holes cast aspersions on city employees, which is not allowed.

City of Rockingham administration building.
Camera IconCity of Rockingham administration building.Picture: Daniel Wilkins

Another complaint related to an email Cr Whitfield sent to acting chief executive Robert Jeans, in which he responded to concerns about another social media post.

The complaint alleged that the emphasis on the acting nature of Mr Jeans’ role in the email, which was addressed to “ACTING CEO”, was a breach of regulations because it was an attempt to influence “by means of a threat or promise” Mr Jean’s conduct.

Cr Whitfield was also accused of creating dissatisfaction with the city’s performance by claiming the timeline for a sporting complex had been pushed out, which the city disputed.

Mr Jeans made the complaints.

Mr Whitfield said he was concerned about the restrictions being placed on councillors using social media.

Rockingham mayor Barry Sammels declined to confirm the city had sent the warning letters or made the standards panel complaints, details of which have been seen by The West Australian. He declined to respond to Mr Whitfield’s allegation that he was being victimised.

Mr Sammels said councillors posting on social media must be mindful of their responsibilities under the city’s code of conduct and the local government regulations.

Mr Jeans declined to comment.

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