The whistleblower who sparked an Ombudsman investigation into Wodonga Council has accused the council of harassment and intimidation.
Former council strategic asset manager Charlie Mitchell was sent a formal letter from council’s lawyers implying he had performed “illicit actions” by entering council’s reception area as a non-ratepayer, not on “council-related business” and taking a photo of a sign listing council’s values.
Wodonga Council refused to respond to The Border Mail’s inquiries or send through any policies on photographs within council buildings or visitors from different cities.
Council would not say whether it had sent letters to any other Albury residents who entered the premises “not on council business”, or how much the legal correspondence had cost ratepayers.
Instead council said the letter “should not have been publicised”.
Mr Mitchell said he was shocked to receive the letter as at the time no one had asked him to leave or stop taking photos.
“I walked in, took two photos of the slogan, then bumped into a staff member, smiled at another staff member, left, and then put my head around to say hello to someone else I knew,” he said.
“It’s intimidation and it’s ridiculous. I was enraged they’d bothered to contact a solicitor to harass me.”
Mr Mitchell said he wanted to take the photos to show the hypocrisy of the values and did not take photos of anything but the wall.
“The council wish to highlight their values for the general public to see, but they don't want anyone to take photographs?” he said.
The letter, provided to The Border Mail, says Mr Mitchell, who lives in Albury, had no reason to enter the Wodonga building.
“Your client is not a ratepayer of the council and, to our client’s knowledge, was not there on council-related business,” it said.
“He therefore had no reason to be in the council’s premises and in particular had no reason to take photographs of the area.” The letter goes on to put Mr Mitchell “on notice” and state that “he is not to repeat any further illicit actions”, stating his entering council premises would “be regarded as trespass”.
Mr Mitchell’s solicitor John Suta said Mr Mitchell was sent the letter because he was a whistleblower, not because he entered the council building and took a photo as a citizen of Albury not on ‘council business’.
“It’s totally inappropriate, it’s a public building that he is entitled to enter,” Mr Suta said.
“I’m not a ratepayer of Wodonga and I’d bet I can walk in there tomorrow and nothing happens.”
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