Huon Valley Guessing Games When is a raid not a raid? On Wednesday, October 24, the public gallery at Huon Valley Council’s monthly ordinary meeting was treated to the spectacle of Commissioner Adriana Taylor shouting loudly at a ratepayer. Taylor was either very angry or, maybe, just pretending to be so.

Ostensibly, her undignified outburst had been provoked by a question from the ratepayer she was shouting at — former councillor Liz Smith. At “public-question time” (PQT), Smith had used the word “raid” when referring to what, indeed, had obviously been a council raid on an evicted ratepayer’s property near Cygnet earlier in the month (October 11).

The word “raid” was at the heart of the Taylor outburst. She obviously felt Smith should not have used it in relation to a council operation. On October 11, two senior council staff, accompanied by two uniformed police, descended on the property of a single mother who had earlier been evicted (and who also happened to be a Greens candidate in the now completed local-government election campaign).

SMITH’S question, which she read out before a public gallery of nearly 30 (including 16 candidates but not including the candidate who was central to Smith’s question), was this:

On October 11, at the Meet the Candidates forum in Dover, one of the candidates, Alexandra Chernov, a single mother from Cygnet, told the meeting that her property had been raided that morning by two council workers and two police officers with a warrant to search, photograph and film throughout her premises for evidence of habitation.

This was clearly a very distressing event and it took place three months after she had provided written evidence to both the general manager and compliance officer that she was living elsewhere.

In addition, the compliance officer . . . who led the raid, had been notified in writing that Alexandra and her daughters had been living in Hobart since July 8, 2018, when her eldest daughter had sustained a traumatic brain injury and was in ICU in the Royal. This was public knowledge, having been reported in the Mercury, and a fund-raising event had been held in Cygnet for Alexandra Chernov and her family.

I have two questions:

1. Was the raid by council officers on the property . . . including the police presence and search warrant, authorised by the general manager and, if so, what was the rationale for such action against a ratepayer who had complied with the instructions from the council and provided proof of her compliance?

2. How many such raids have been carried out by council officers in the company of police officers with search warrants in the Huon Valley municipality since October 2016?

When Smith finished reading her question, Taylor made no bones about what she thought of it: “I find this question quite offensive,” she said sternly: it wasn’t a “raid”, she said, and Smith didn’t know all the facts of the case.

Of course Smith didn’t know “all” the facts of a case that, as Taylor revealed, had stretched over 10 years. Quite properly, in the interests of privacy, council would not have made the “facts” public.

Taylor accused Smith of making statements that were untrue. Then, surprisingly, as her tirade continued, she suggested Smith, because she had been a councillor for many years, should know more about the facts of the Chernov case.

Smith, still at the PQT lectern, said she had investigated the facts of the case as far as she could. (Obviously, she had found Chernov’s story plausible, and worth raising at the October 24 council meeting.)

As Smith tried to speak, Taylor, shouted, “Please do not interrupt me”. The issue, the commissioner said, was not going to be discussed at the council meeting because it was quite inappropriate for discussion. What she chose to ignore was that Smith, as her question indicated, didn’t require a specific issue to be discussed.

All of what Taylor said at the October 24 meeting, but spoken more thoughtfully, might well have been justified. It was the tone, the anger and the harshness, bloody rudeness, of the attitude of this ageing politician that rattled me. It had me thinking about my old dad explaining to me, probably 70 years ago, about the kind of behaviour that got raucous women branded “fish wives”.

When Taylor momentarily seemed to run out of steam, Smith began to say something: “I would just like to say . . .” Back came the commissioner with words like, “You are not entitled to say. Please sit down.”

Smith was probably genuinely shocked by Taylor’s verbal assault. I’m sure I heard her say, “Thank you very much” as she left the PQT lectern and returned to her seat in the public gallery. Smith’s like that. Always polite even in the direst of circumstances.

(ALL of the unexpected exchanges above should have been available on council’s website when the audio recording of the October 24 ordinary meeting went up on Monday afternoon (October 29). But they’re not. It seems General Manager Emilio Reale has decided — by resorting to powers granted him in the Local Government Act 1993 — that some things said at council meetings are not for the ears of those who don’t attend council meetings, preferring to listen later.

The audio of Smith’s question and the exchange that followed have been removed entirely from the audio posted on council’s website. I note here that previous council audio recordings have also been “edited” at the discretion of HVC management. It’s a tactic that demonstrates yet another way in which official history is re-ordered, or, should we say, is left unspoken. It’s one way that shit is electronically swept under the carpet.l

However, Smith’s question (edited) does appear in the draft minutes of the October 24 meeting that are now on the council website. The following words have been deleted in the abbreviated minutes’ version of her question:

This was clearly a very distressing event and it took place three months after she had provided written evidence to both the general manager and compliance officer that she was living elsewhere.

In addition, the compliance officer . . . who led the raid, had been notified in writing that Alexandra and her daughters had been living in Hobart since July 8 2018, when her eldest daughter had sustained a traumatic brain injury and was in ICU in the Royal. This was public knowledge, having been reported in the Mercury, and a fund-raising event had been held in Cygnet for Alexandra Chernov and her family.

Then Smith’s two questions are listed in full, followed by an answer (comprising a mangling of tenses and punctuation and sans the passion of the moment). Council’s answer to Smith’s question in the draft minutes reads:

Commissioner Taylor stated that she finds this question offensive. It was certainly not a raid. In addition to that neither you [presumably Smith] nor the people who were at that meeting [presumably the raid] know all the facts and so I think your [sic] making statements which are quite untrue to some degree.

Commissioner Taylor stated that she is not saying it was not said, she is saying that Dr Smith does not know all the facts of this case. Commissioner Taylor said she suspects that Dr Smith should know more of the facts of this because this has been an ongoing situation for some ten years and Dr Smith had been on Council for a number of years. This was not a raid and Commissioner Taylor objects to Dr Smith calling it such a thing and you and the rest of the public do not know all the facts nor are we going to discuss them and disclose them in a public meeting and it is quite an inappropriate question to say how many such raids are conducted.

GM Reale’s explanation for the editing of council’s audio version of the October 24 meeting, supplied to a fellow ratepayer, is that the “audio recording has been edited to remove the section that involved a live compliance case that should not be discussed at an open public meeting to protect the subject parties and prevent any biases being formed to the detriment of either party. The preamble to all questions has been removed as they need not record the narrative surrounding the questions which are posed. It is appropriate to distil the question posed and to record in the minutes only those questions and the answers”.)

THE IRONY of the omission of Smith’s question and the ensuing outburst from Taylor from the audio, as well as the adjustments to the minutes, is that council has failed to recognise what Smith, the questioner, was asking. Council had only to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to her first question, and “Eleventy-seven, whatever” to the second.

Smith, I interpret, was asking for no further information, so absolutely nothing about any specific “compliance” case needs to have been revealed.

ALL of the foregoing represents a far cry from the normally friendly, sometimes even constructive, commissioner-run HVC question-time exchanges — except for one small aspect: over the past year or so, just now and then, Taylor has tended to be dismissive of Smith’s questions, sometimes suggesting, in words to the effect, that, “as an ex-councillor, you ought to know that”. The observation was there again in her minutes response to Smith question. Taylor seems to know so little about how the pre-sacking council had operated probably all the way back to its founding in 1993. Rarely did a councillor on the wrong side of the fence get anything out of HVC, even when they knew what they were asking about.

Taylor — mayor of Glenorchy from 2005-11, and a Legislative Council member (2010 until she lost her seat in 2016) — seems to fail to recognise that Smith’s questions are frequently posed not simply to obtain information for herself but to acquire information that can be passed on about issues of interest to the wider community. Despite persistent and massive public apathy towards local government matters, Smith has optimistically soldiered on trying to keep the valley council transparent. Surely, I would think, she has subconsciously sensed that she has been casting pearls . . .

As a long-serving HVC councillor — 2002 to 2016, when she and all other councillors were sacked because Gutwein’s board of inquiry had judged HVC to be dysfunctional — Smith, who knows well the rules council operates by, never wastes time on silly questions. They are always relevant and soundly based. She delivers her inquiries in a determined, yet ever-respectful manner.

So surely it has not been Smith’s polite probings into council’s affairs that has so visibly irritated Taylor, to the extent that she felt she couldn’t preside over her final HVC meeting without saying something, with added zest (that’s perhaps too kind a word), about a political contemporary (they’re both in their mid-70s) who gets under her skin.

If that’s really the case, Taylor might have said it in a tone (perhaps better reflected in the written minutes) more befitting a so-called trouble-shooter diplomat parachuted in by an old parliamentary acquaintance to bring order back to a dislocated council.

THROUGHOUT the commissioner’s brief outburst — apart from one or two muffled grumblings — the public gallery, predictably, remained silent. We’re an excessively, respectful lot down here in the Huon, a community ideally suited to the post-heckling, maintain-your-apathy, era that has been inflicted on us by our spin-happy establishments at all levels of government.

Why didn’t any one of us stand up, or at least put a hand up, to Commissioner Adrian Taylor to say we didn’t appreciate that kind of rudeness being showing to an elder citizen, a person who, throughout her long association with the valley, has served its citizens with dedication and caring, especially for those not so able to defend their own positions in face of a doggedly authoritarian council that has persistently displayed — even when pretending to consult — a strong reluctance to co-operate with the public? It’s probably because we don’t have the guts to make a fuss in public. It’s the way we have become these days.

IF YOU look back at Smith’s question, you will see she was not angling for specific information about the Chernov case. Her concern was simply to discover (i) if the council’s raid had the approval of General Manager Emilio Reale, and (ii) whether other similar raids had been carried out since LG Minister Peter Gutwein’s suspension of democracy became operative in October 2016.

Bob Hawkins is a longtime journalist who has been covering Huon Valley Council affairs since 2008, through Tasmanian Times and any other media outlet willing to publish his freely offered dogma. Ex-councillor Liz Smith and Hawkins, because they share similar ideals, have been close friends since 2008.