A CLOSED meeting between five Frankston councillors took place last Wednesday (15 June) in an apparent attempt to silence four councillors who decided not to attend the meeting.
The meeting was not listed on council’s website and councillors met behind closed doors to discuss changes to council’s media and communications policy.
While communication was high on the meeting attendees’ minds last week, council was not willing to communicate the reason for the meeting.
When asked for a copy of the Special Meeting agenda council’s media and communications department advised late on Friday that since the meeting was “a closed meeting” no information, including the reason for the meeting, would be provided to the public.
Special Meetings, which can be called between council regular monthly Ordinary Meetings, are usually listed on councils’ websites and an agenda is also published even if a Special Meeting is closed to the public.
Further questions asking who called last Wednesday’s meeting and who decided to keep the meeting secret were not answered by council before deadline.
The Times understands the meeting was called by Crs Glenn Aitken, Brian Cunial and Colin Hampton and council CEO Dennis Hovenden notified councillors that the meeting would be closed to the public.
The three councillors who called the meeting attended the Special Meeting alongside mayor Cr James Dooley and Cr Sandra Mayer.
Crs Darrel Taylor, Suzette Tayler, Michael O’Reilly and Rebekah Spelman did not turn up, seemingly sensing councillor voting numbers by a ‘gang of five’ were almost certainly stacked against them.
In May last year The Times reported on an attempt to stop councillors speaking to the media, even when expressing personal opinion and not official council policy, without first consulting the mayor and CEO (‘Councillors’ free speech threatened’, The Times 18/5/15).
Last year’s attempt to amend council policy to effectively silence councillors was deferred when some councillors expressed concern about attempts to try to control what they say.
Last week’s secret meeting seems like a second try – this time on the sly – to shut down public comments by some councillors.
It is believed that the five councillors at last Wednesday’s 7pm meeting also discussed restrictions on councillors posting comments on online social media sites such as Facebook.
Councillors are elected representatives, not employees of council, and as such should be able to express opinions without being gagged by council.
Differences of opinion between Frankston’s councillors have regularly erupted at public council meetings since late last year.
All councillors have twice been ordered from council chamber by the meeting chairperson to continue heated debate away from public view amid accusations of “bullying” and personal attacks.