Social media beats mayor

THE Derwent Valley Council faces a massive shake-up after the mayor and a councillor quit, a third was dismissed and the AGM had to be abandoned – all in just two weeks.

Former mayor Ben Shaw took to social media on Saturday to announce his immediate resignation.

Mr Shaw cited a concerted campaign to “bring me down by social media warriors, certain media and a minority of despicable community members who are allowed to go unfettered and without consequence spreading vile misinformation, rumors and lies’’ had led him to quit.

Councillor Paul Belcher announced last Wednesday he was quitting and former mayor Martyn Evans was dis-missed by the Office of Local Government after failing to attend three council meetings in a row.

The shock developments will trigger two recounts and a by-election to replace the mayor.

On Monday, the Tasmanian Electoral Commission announced former long-serving councillor James Graham would replace Mr Evans.

Mr Belcher’s replacement will be known next Monday and a by-election to replace Mr Shaw’s position as councillor and mayor will take place next year.

Nominations for the postal by-election will open on January 10, and counting of votes will take place on February 23.

The Gazette asked Local Government Minister Roger Jaensch if he needed to intervene given the council upheaval.

He did not answer directly and through a spokesperson said: “There is a process under the Local Government Act where a by-election is held to fill council vacancies and it is understood this process will occur following the resignation of Mr Ben Shaw.

“The Government thanks Mr Shaw for his contribution to the Derwent Valley, both as a councillor and also mayor, and we look forward to the council continuing to represent ratepayers into the future.’’

Mr Shaw said the “warriors” had no regard to his or his family’s mental health.

“To have lies about myself and my family, including my children, spread around social media is nothing short of disgusting.

“Local government is just not a safe place in today’s world and unfortunately I don’t have the energy to fight any more. “
This was an extremely tough decision because of the love I have for my community and changes I have been able to make, but one I have been grappling with for some months now,’’ Mr Shaw said.

“Most will know that I had an unsuccessful run earlier in the year at State Parliament, after that tilt I decided to re-enter the full-time workforce for mine and my family’s financial stability and support.
“I am extremely proud of what I have achieved and contributed over a seven-year period.I set out to shake up and get things moving and if you go back seven years and look at where we are now it’s an amazing leap forward and I’ll forever be proud of being part of that.”

“While I love my community and my contributions, no position is worth the safety and health of your loved ones. My Facebook page will be shortly shut down and I’d like to ask, given the nature of what I have said, that we be given some respect and privacy.’’

Meanwhile Mr Belcher, who recently faced disciplinary action and was told he had to undertake ethics training, said he had been considering his future for six months.

“I thank those that supported me and for reaching out when you needed a helping hand. I’ve always had the community best interests at heart,’’ Mr Belcher said.
“I need to concentrate on my personal life and my business and my next business venture.
“I know a lot will be upset with my decision and some will be delighted but I think it’s best for myself at this time to call it a day while my humour is still intact. Thank you to all my family and close friends for your support.’’

Deputy Mayor Jessica Cosgrove will be acting mayor until the by-election is decided and has indicated she is considering running for the role.

“The last few weeks have been a challenging and difficult time for council, however I’m looking forward to welcoming our new councillors and moving forward,’’ Ms Cosgrove said.
“Despite recent events the council continues to govern well, we have full agendas and making good decisions in line with our strategic plan.”
“I’m proud to be Acting Mayor, I have proved my dedication to the role (Deputy Mayor) over the past three years and am excited to continue working on the great things happening within our beautiful region.’’

Last Thursday’s AGM was abandoned after it was discovered the meeting had not been advertised according to regulations.

Members of the community attending the meeting voiced concerns that the notice given for the meeting was not compliant with regulations, as it did not give 14-days public notice.