BAD blood between councillors was on full show at the latest Frankston Council public meeting when councillors repeatedly clashed over the outcome of arbitration code of conduct complaints lodged against each other in recent months.
Three arbitration hearings over five complaints against three councillors, involving lawyers being called in by council at ratepayers’ expense to make code of conduct rulings, have cost ratepayers tens of thousands of dollars this year (“Costly conduct for ratepayers”, The Times 5/9/16).
Councillors voted to bring the hearing outcomes into the public domain at the council meeting.
Mayor Cr James Dooley made complaints against Cr Darrel Taylor and Cr Suzette Tayler over comments the duo made on Facebook in June and Cr Glenn Aitken complained about comments Cr Rebekah Spelman made to the press that same month.
Lawyers found no merit in three of the complaints, including Cr Aitken’s complaint about Cr Spelman and Cr Dooley complaints about internal council emails sent by Cr Darrel Taylor, but decided phrases used by Cr Taylor and Cr Suzette Tayler in Facebook comments about council matters breached council code of conduct provisions.
The arbitrator ruled the pair should publicly apologise to councillors.
At last Monday’s council meeting Cr Darrel Taylor and Cr Suzette Tayler were ejected from the council chamber for 30 minutes each by mayor Dooley as chair of the meeting because he believed comments they made at the meeting were “defamatory”.
Cr Taylor said “a flurry” of complaints “within weeks” against the three councillors was motivated by the outcome of an independent panel hearing that in June found Cr Colin Hampton breached Local Government Act code of conduct behaviour clauses over the way he was “aggressive” towards two council employees at a public function at The Deck bar in Frankston late last year.
“In my opinion, these code of conduct [complaints] were brought against us, or against me, in an act of retribution for bringing a code of conduct complaint against Cr Hampton,” Cr Taylor said before he was ordered to leave the meeting.
Cr Dooley said that statement was “defamatory” since it effectively accused the mayor of “bias” in bringing his complaints against Cr Taylor.
Cr Hampton said some councillors “cry wolf” when decisions in council go against them.
“I’ve been a councillor a long time and it boils down to this – if you haven’t got the numbers, you haven’t got the numbers,” he said.
“You should take that on board and try to be part of the group. This group hasn’t done that.”
Cr Suzette Tayler was ordered to leave the meeting for 30 minutes by the mayor when she referred to a previously publicly unknown WorkCover claim in February brought by Cr Brian Cunial naming Cr Tayler in a “bullying” claim.
The mayor accused Cr Tayler of “slander” when mentioning the WorkCover claim, rejected by council’s WorkCover insurer CGU, but Cr Tayler said it was not defamatory to mention it since it was listed in documents councillors had voted to publicly release.
“I have been bullied in this council for the last two years,” Cr Tayler said.
Cr Dooley immediately ordered her to leave the chamber.
“It is disgraceful beyond belief that people should air their dirty laundry out in public in this way,” he said.
“This is behaviour that would get you sacked in any workplace in Australia. Making public attacks on your work colleagues would get you sacked in any workplace in Australia and it’s not acceptable.
“We can’t be sacked. All that can be done is we can be voted out or we can have a code of conduct matter and be subject to the courts.”
The arguments and councillor ejections at last week’s council meeting follow nearly two years of public squabbling between Frankston’s elected representatives.
Public council meetings have been cut short, councillors have been ordered to leave meetings by the chair and, in January last year, all councillors left the chamber and could be heard shouting at each other behind closed doors.
Councillors face voters for re-election on 22 October.
All nine Frankston councillors have nominated to stand as candidates.