FREE “house seat” tickets to the Frankston Arts Centre taken by Frankston councillors since the November 2016 election have surpassed a total value of $10,000.
Council and council officers were previously able to access free house seats for the venue without any cap or limit. A cap of eight tickets per year was introduced at a 22 October council meeting.
Figures seen by The Times show that Cr Steve Toms has claimed the most free tickets since the November 2016 election, attending 26 shows in the last 18 months. The total value of those tickets declared as taken by Cr Toms exceeded $3,500.
Cr Sandra Mayer, who has served on the board of the Arts Centre since the November 2016 election, attended 16 shows for free, with the value of her tickets exceeding $2,100.
Crs Brian Cunial and Kris Bolam have also claimed free seats since November 2016 at a total value of over $1,000, while Cr Michael O’Reilly attended 6 shows with tickets to the value of $960.
The value of house tickets claimed for free by councillors has previously not been included in council’s annual financial report. As part of a motion passed at the 22 October council meeting, they will be included in the report going forward.
Cr Toms said he used the tickets to take guests to the centre who “may not have always been able to enjoy shows or afford to go to shows”.
“It was my understanding that councillors were, under the old system, allowed to take guests from the community. I’ve taken various community members along to shows at the arts centre, as it’s my view that community members who may not be able to go to shows should be able to enjoy them. I understand that there may be a view that councillors shouldn’t be going to the Arts Centre and having tickets on behalf of the ratepayers. The Arts Centre is to entertain and culturally engage and inform the community. That includes councillors,” Cr Toms said.
“I understand there are council members who have done exactly as I have done. In my view, I have been targeted by a force of people who don’t see that as the right thing to do for the community, which I disagree with. In the end council did make a decision [to cap ticksets], and I respect the decision that council made.
“I don’t see it as excessive when I’ve used it as a means to, in my role as a councillor, assist the community in cultural engagement and development in the arts in our local community. The Arts Centre was set up for the community. The community has a right to enjoy shows at the Arts Centre. I wasn’t breaking in the rules, I wasn’t breaching any guidelines, and I certainly don’t feel it was excessive or a rorting of the system.
“I will be following the guidelines that have been set out now.”
Cr Toms has not served on the board or committee of the Arts Centre.
Mayor Cr Michael O’Reilly told The Times “as part of the hiring contract, the Frankston Arts Centre has access to 20 house seats per theatre performance. The intent for the usage/allocation of the house seats is for audience and business development initiatives both for Council and the person hiring the theatre.”
“While under no obligation to report on the use of house seats, in its continued effort to improve transparency, at the council meeting on Monday 22 October [we] resolved to cap the number of events a councillor can attend each year and include the cost of these tickets if sold, along with the frequency of councillor use, in its councillor expense reports.”
While there was no breach of the rules at the time, council agreed almost unanimously to amend the guidelines so as to limit attendances going forward.
Cr Kris Bolam said at the 22 October meeting that “no mass misuse” of ratepayer’s money had occurred, but a cap should be implemented.
“Having access to house seats is not a good use of ratepayer’s money, and I believe having a cap is appropriate,” he said
Cr Sandra Mayer said “we did have a lot of debate about what was reasonable in terms of house seats go.”
“I’ve served on the board on many years and yes, I’ve had a good run with tickets, and I am going to kerb how many shows I go to,” she said.
Cr Quinn McCormack, who was one of just three councillors alongside Crs Glenn Aitken and Lillian O’Connor to take up less than $100 worth of free tickets in the period between November 2016 and June 2018, said the cap should be reduced to zero.
“I don’t think councillors should be accessing free complimentary tickets to the Arts Centre. I don’t believe the executive management should be accessing free tickets to the Arts Centre. If you want to attend a performance at the Arts Centre you should pay your way as any other member of the community would,” she said.
The motion was coupled with changes to council’s policy on claiming cab charge expenses. All councillors voted in favour of making the changes except for Cr Glenn Aitken, who opposed.
Council corporate development director Tim Frederico confirmed the new caps would also apply to council officers.