Code of conduct criticism ‘contravenes’ code of conduct

Column cut out: A column penned by Frankston councillor Glenn Aitken was omitted (below) from the latest edition of the Frankston City News. Pic: Gary Sissons

A FRANKSTON councillor says he has been found to have contravened council’s code of conduct for criticising their code of conduct.

Council veteran Glenn Aitken penned a piece criticising the current code of conduct for Frankston Council’s May/June edition of the Frankston City News. Councillors usually pen a column for each edition of the newsletter. Cr Aitken’s column appeared blank in this month’s edition, with a short statement claiming that it contravened “Frankston City News Terms of Reference 2017 and the signed Councillor Code of Conduct 2018” in its place.

Cr Aitken told The Times it was “very foolish” to remove his article from the newsletter. “I said nothing wrong. I think the part they were upset about were my comments on the code of conduct,” he said.

“I was informed that they thought my comments were inappropriate and that I should consider some word changes. In this particular instance there was a column that is orderly, and mannerly, and it was indicated to me that the column would not be there if it was unchanged. I don’t see that I should be put in a position as a public advocate where there’s an opinion I’ve got to change.

“There’s no offence or person specifically named or attempt to discredit an organisation. The comments are creative and entertaining, why should they be altered?

“When you have a serious message to convey that touches on all levels of government it should not be silenced. I’m criticising the code of conduct and that’s not deemed as acceptable. Surely you’re at least allowed to discuss the matter.”

Cr Aitken’s column said people in all levels of government “often lose touch of reality” and mentions “appalling conduct” at council meetings. In regards to the code of conduct, the column reads that “misused it can become figuratively a wild and fearful forest of wild creatures. A kind of jungle filled with insidious vines.”

“It is a really creepy place, put to bad purpose the code of conduct is absolute toxic,” the column said.

“It is a document in desperate need of review and reform.”

Cr Aitken told The Times that “the issue with the code of conduct is this, first of all anyone can make any claim against you under the sun. They can say they don’t like the way you look at them. It can be as simple as that.”

“There is an increasing worrying trend that sees people as guilty and left to desperately try to prove their innocence. This is a very big problem when you’re in local government, when just living day to day life is a highly politicised environment. When you have code of conduct thrown into that environment, it can be an explosive situation,” he said.

“If someone makes a claim against you, that can evolve various ways. You may be sat down for discussion, the mayor might say it needs to go further, one matter or another can referred to the local government inspectorate, and the person who has had that complaint made against them is not allowed to speak. They can’t speak to the press, speak to friends or speak to colleagues, they’re not allowed to have a conversation. You have to remain silent while the process takes place. 

“This deals with fundamentals of democracy. On one side of matter it stops councillors stop airing dirty linen in public which may be good and may be bad, but it’s very hard to identify who is legit and who is not if you can’t see the forces that flow backwards and forwards.”

Mayor Michael O’Reilly provided a short statement when asked why the article contravened the code of conduct.

“As per the printed statement in the May/June edition of Frankston City News, at time of printing the councillor column provided was deemed to contravene the Frankston City News editorial committee terms of reference 2017 and the signed councillor code of conduct 2018 and was therefore not included the publication,” he said.

 “When constructing their columns, councillors are to adhere to the terms set out in both documents and I expect that going forward this will be the case.”

First published in the Frankston Times – 4 June 2019

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