Caretaker mode kicks off council campaigning

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CARETAKER period has kicked in for Victorian councils, with elections now just one month away.

Frankston Council entered caretaker period on 22 September, after holding their final ordinary meeting the night prior. Caretaker mode prohibits councils from making certain types of decisions and from producing materials which could affect voting at the election.

Nominations for the council election also closed on 22 September. 

The local government elections will take place by postal vote. Election material will be sent out by mail between 6 October and 8 October.

Campaigning will be made more difficult this year by the current COVID-19 restrictions, which prevent candidates from holding forums and door knocking.

The current council, which began its term in 2016, has not been without controversy. A state government appointed municipal monitor sat in on council meetings from December 2017 to June 2019 at a cost of over $100,000 to ratepayers. 

In the monitor’s final report, she wrote that Frankston councillors behaved in a “disrespectful, hostile, and aggressive” way at meetings (“Council behaviour hostile and aggressive”, The Times, 23/12/19).

“A staff engagement survey was conducted in early 2018 and the results were very concerning for the councillors and CEO. The CEO and executive, whilst acknowledging that they needed to make improvements, were of the view that the poor result was also about staff’s perception of poor councillor behaviour,” monitor Prue Digby wrote in her final report.

She also wrote that during this council term, a number of referrals were made to the Local Government Inspectorate regarding alleged breaches of the Local Government Act.

While discussing the finding of the monitor’s report at an ordinary meeting, councillors began arguing and Cr Glenn Aitken stormed out of the room.

The monitor’s stay at council was extended when former council CEO Dennis Hovenden departed his role with only four months left on his contract. Council confirmed that they paid Mr Hovenden “all his statutory entitlements” when he left the job.

A bullying scandal caused further division at council last year. Cr Steve Toms was suspended for four months in September 2019 after a bullying complaint made against him was upheld by a councillor conduct panel. This July, Cr Toms was censured by council for a Facebook post spruiking council’s new free parking scheme made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cr Colin Hampton was the subject of a local government inspectorate inquiry during this council term, but was cleared of wrongdoing.

Earlier this year, the process undertaken to act on changes to Frankston’s Green Wedge management plan was referred to an audit for review. This came after councillors expressed concerns that a previous resolution had not been acted on for months (“Audit into Green Wedge action delay”, The Times, 17/2/2020).

Council also ordered an audit into its internal processes and potential risks for corruption after Casey Council was sacked by the state government. It is understood that the internal review uncovered one application made to council which had falsely suggested that no meetings had been conducted between council officers and an applicant, in this case an employee of Watsons (“Council planning audit complete”, The Times, 6/7/2020).

Nominations for the election closed shortly after publication deadline. A full list of candidates running for Frankston Council will be published in The Times next week.

First published in the Frankston Times – 22 September 2020

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