Torrent of abuse, threats at councillor exposes bigger issue
PROTECTIONS for councillors has come into question after a Lismore City councillor endured a torrent of online abuse and threats at the weekend.
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Cr Eddie Lloyd wrote a Facebook post sympathising with North Lismore residents about the Speedway, which she said could be heard from Lismore Heights.
But she was forced to delete the post when community commentary "deteriorated into threats and bullying" on Sunday afternoon.
"My role as a councillor is to engage with and support all sectors of my community. My role does not include being sworn at, called names and abused," Cr Lloyd wrote on Facebook.
Among the worst of the abuse was a vulgar death threat that read: "Can someone put a shotgun to this flog. I'll even chip in $$ (sic)".
The council's general manager, Gary Murphy said he contacted Cr Lloyd earlier yesterday morning about the online attack and made clear "any bullying or harassment of councillors either online or in person is simply unacceptable".
Mr Murphy said councillors may access their employee assistance program, but he said the council's code of conduct, dictated by the Office of Local Government, doesn't "deal with instances of bullying and harassment by members of the public".
Given councillors aren't employed by Lismore City Council, he said they were left with options "similar to those of a private citizen".
"Lismore City Council, like all other councils in New South Wales, is limited in terms of how it can respond as an organisation to bullying and harassment of individual councillors," Mr Murphy said.
"Council resources cannot be used for, say, legal expenses to bring about a case of defamation on behalf of a councillor."
Local Government NSW is the peak body that represents the interests of general and special purpose councils. Together with the Office of Local Government, both agencies provide guidance and support resources for councillors.
But Mayor Isaac Smith said change needed to happen at a community level as well as a state level to better support councillors.
"What has happened to Cr Lloyd and I would suggest all councillors over the past few months in regards to a number of issues is something the community shouldn't tolerate," he said.
"The community needs to take a stand against people (who are abusive) like this."
Councillors like Darlene Cook took to Facebook yesterday to defend Cr Lloyd and "her right to make a fair comment".
"She did nothing that deserved the level of hate and abuse that was poured out on her page. I hope she blocks each and every one of the cyber bullies. Their hate filled voices do not need to be heard," Cr Cook said.
Mr Murphy revealed he had been approached by other councillors about instances of abuse.
Late last year, Cr Nancy Casson told The Northern Star she had copped abuse on her business Facebook page over her vote at the December ordinary meeting for additional 20 greyhound races annually at the Lismore Greyhound Racing Track.
She criticised those taking to her business page as opposed to her personal profile to criticise her over the move.
The Local Government NSW was contacted for comment by The Northern Star but did not respond before deadline.