No more notes under the desk

PERTH councillors have been told they must keep copies of Facebook posts, Tweets and private WhatsApp messages about council business.

A new communications policy adopted by the city adheres to the previously-flouted State Records Act, and follows revelations during the Inquiry into the City of Perth of secret scheming amongst council factions leading up to the old lineup’s suspension in 2018.

Many former councillors used to discuss upcoming votes on third party messaging apps like WhatsApp, instead of their official emails which are automatically archived.

The Inquiry heavily criticised some of those decisions and the shadowy discussions leading up to them, such as the sacking of former CEO Gary Stevenson. 

The inquiry searched 95 phones, tablets and computers to build a picture of what went on behind the scenes, but most of the WhatsApp messages had already been deleted. 

They had access to just six months of messages from the WhatsApp “Team” group started by then-lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi. The “Team” included all councillors save Reece Harley and Jemma Green, and later James Limnios was removed after he fell out of favour.

During the inquiry hearings former councillor Judy McEvoy, a member of the “Team” Whatsapp group, confirmed she told other members to delete messages relating to their planned toppling of Mr Stevenson, who’d reported several councillors’ potential conduct breaches to higher authorities.

The Team had portrayed Mr Stevenson as ready to resign, so the whole council approved the termination of his contract not knowing he actually wanted to stay on.   

In a WhatsApp message to the team, Ms McEvoy referred to their sacking of Mr Stevenson as “an excellent execution”.

At first Ms McEvoy claimed the deletion was to save space, but later conceded deleting the messages would prevent the public finding out Mr Stevenson’s didn’t go willingly.

The inquiry only found the messages because one member did not delete them.

“I’m most embarrassed about it now,” Ms McEvoy told the inquiry.

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