A FORMER mayor of Frankston has hit out at a lack of transparency at council. Kris Bolam says Frankston Council’s “disregard for enhancing transparency” is frustrating.
Mr Bolam slammed a council attempt to effectively censor councillors after a draft amended media policy sought to make it mandatory for councillors to inform mayor Cr Sandra Mayer “of any comments that they have made or are intending to make to the media” (‘Councillors’ free speech threatened, The Times 18/5/15).
The Times understands several councillors are concerned about the move to try to control what they say and the draft policy has been deferred for further debate.
“It is a preposterous idea that democratically elected councillors be wilfully prevented from making comments to the free media on public matters,” Mr Bolam said.
“It is not only against freedom of expression but it also serves to oppose the very democratic principles that underpin the legitimacy of the council chamber.”
A council officer’s report tabled at March’s council meeting alongside the proposed media policy stated unclear procedures for media enquiries “has recently resulted in several instances of incorrect, unverified or potentially damaging information being provided to the media”.
The mayor and council CEO Dennis Hovenden have declined to provide any examples of “incorrect information” or “retractions”.
In a statement provided earlier this month, Mr Hovenden said: “It is not appropriate to discuss these in the media, but we hope that the new media policy helps to reduce these situations from occurring.”
Councillors should tell the mayor about conversations with the media “as a courtesy”, according to Mr Bolam, but he said any move to make this mandatory is an attack on free speech.
“We don’t have an executive-style mayoral system in Australia. Therefore the ‘command and control’ approach is frankly unnecessary,” he said.
The former mayor said he left council “with the belief the city was heading in the right direction” but he has become increasingly frustrated by an apparent lack of transparency at council since then.
Mr Bolam decided not to renominate in 2012 for re-election as a North-West Ward councillor before the last council election. He was voted in as mayor by his councillor colleagues for the year in 2011.
He noted one of the first acts of councillors on the current council after the 2012 election was to rescind a plan approved by councillors on the previous council to hold a public referendum for Frankston residents to have a say if a municipality project costs more than $200 million.
“There is seemingly a reliable reluctance by this council to undertake institutional reform insofar as good governance measures and this concerns me,” Mr Bolam said.