Councillor to cop legal bill

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Frankston MP Paul Edbrooke

RATEPAYERS will not foot any legal bill for a councillor accused of condoning alleged defamatory comments on Facebook.

The deputy mayor Cr Steve Toms asked his fellow councillors to approve payment of legal fees he may incur as the result of a threatened defamation suit from Frankston Labor MP Paul Edbrooke.

Councillors unanimously decided “that it is not appropriate for public funds to be used to settle or defend the foreshadowed defamation proceedings in relation to councillor Steve Toms”.

The decision, made behind closed doors after last Monday evening’s council meeting on 4 September, was made public while a council officer report about the request to pay legal fees was deemed “confidential” by councillors.

Lawyers hired by Mr Edbrooke have written to Cr Toms demanding an apology for the posting of an image on Facebook of animals copulating alongside comments about the state MP.

Frankston councillor Steve Toms

The closed Facebook group page called ‘Young Street Traders And Others Affected By The Rejuvenation Project’ has 62 members and one of its two adminstrators is Cr Toms.

Facebook group administrators can “approve or deny posts in the group” and “remove posts and comments on posts” according to the social media giant’s guidelines.

Some Young St traders are angry that a $13 million state government upgrade of the street near Frankston train station, begun in November last year and due to be complete by May, is now forecast to be finished by the end of October.

Cr Toms, a Labor Party member, has sided with traders and has been highly critical of the Labor state government’s handling of the Young St redevelopment, calling on compensation for business owners.

Mr Edbrooke said he was unhappy that the image on the Facebook page administrated by Cr Toms was shown to his young daughter by friends at school and she asked the MP about the picture.

“I’m happy to have respectful, robust conversations with anyone,” Mr Edbrooke said in a statement.

“But it is unacceptable that my family and I are exposed to nasty abuse as depicted on this Facebook page administered by a Frankston councillor.”

Cr Toms did not return calls on Friday before publication.

In another legal dispute, the deputy mayor also dropped an intervention order request against a member of the public described as “a former friend” by Cr Toms in a statement submitted to Frankston Magistrates’ Court.

First published in the Frankston Times – 11 September 2017

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