New code for gifts

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FRANKSTON councillors have agreed to a revised code of conduct as part of an annual review of behavioural guidelines.

Changes to the code include a voluntary lowering of the dollar value at which councillors must declare a gift and clarification about how councillors should conduct themselves online while making comments on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Councillors met to discuss and vote on the conduct code changes alongside separate amendments to council meeting procedures at a public council special meeting held on Wednesday 13 June.

As part of the conduct code changes, councillors must now declare any accepted gift valued at more than $150, lower than the $500 mandated in the Local Government Act for all councillors across Victoria.

In February last year, Cr Kris Bolam failed to gain support from fellow councillors to lower the gifts declaration threshold from $500 to $50.

At the 13 June meeting, Cr Quinn McCormack said the $150 threshold brings council in line with most other public servants across the state.

While there was unanimous agreement on the amended code of conduct, some councillors were unhappy at “last minute” changes proposed by Cr Brian Cunial to the governance local law guidelines about meeting procedures.

At the special meeting, Cr Cunial said “minor” changes had been discussed at councillor briefing sessions.

The mayor Cr Colin Hampton, chairing the meeting, said councillors will have another opportunity to vote on local law changes about meetings after the policy is advertised for community feedback.

“At the end of the day, councillors need to look to compromise on things and work together as a group and unfortunately sometimes this group doesn’t do that,” Cr Hampton said.

The amended code of conduct also makes it clear that councillors who use social media must “endeavour to maintain an appropriate separation between their role and duties as a councillor and their life as a private citizen”.

Councillors making statements on social media from accounts identifying them as “a councillor of the council” must not imply they are authorised to speak on behalf of council as a whole, and must not “post, make comment or endorse (for example “like”) material that is offensive, obscene, defamatory, damaging, deceptive, threatening, harassing, bullying, discriminatory, hateful, racist, sexist, that infringes copyright or privacy, that constitutes a contempt of court, that breaches a court suppression order or is otherwise unlawful”.

Councillors must not “use or disclose confidential information obtained in their capacity as a councillor” online or “make any comment, post or endorse any material that might otherwise cause damage to the council’s reputation or bring it into disrepute”.

Councillors will sign the amended code of conduct at a public ordinary meeting on Monday 2 July.

First published in the Frankston Times – 2 July 2018

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