A CONTENTIOUS column by Frankston mayor Cr Colin Hampton in which the mayor blasted “local” media coverage of council matters led to a now-withdrawn complaint from a councillor.
North-West Ward councillor Kris Bolam lodged a formal complaint with council CEO Dennis Hovenden about the mayoral column published in council’s Frankston City News quarterly (“Mayor hits out at ‘fake news’”, The Times 26/2/18) since he said the column was inconsistent with council policy and “is potentially damaging relations with the press”.
A mediation meeting was attended by both the mayor and Cr Bolam and it was agreed the mayor would bring any future “contentious” statements made as council’s official spokesperson to fellow councillors’ attention before publication.
The column is available to be read by councillors before publication but is generally not flagged to councillors.
An unrepentant Cr Hampton said he had no regrets about penning the column when contacted by The Times in the wake of the mediation meeting.
“There’s nothing at all wrong with what was written. It’s fact,” he said.
“I don’t think it did anything against having improved relations with the media.
“All I was doing was reporting the facts.”
The mayor noted he had complained to the Australian Press Council about “biased” news in the Frankston Standard Leader newspaper and the News Corp publication had twice been ordered to publish the Press Council’s rulings “to correct the record”.
Cr Bolam said he had made the complaint since he believed the mayor had gone “beyond his remit” in slamming the local media.
“Freedom of information and the impartiality of the press is something that should absolutely be celebrated rather than execrated,” he said.
Cr Bolam said he had withdrawn the complaint after the mayor agreed to flag any future contentious comments in future mayoral columns in the Frankston City News.
Cr Bolam said the mayor had also agreed to make it clear any such mayoral statement would make it clear it was Cr Hampton’s opinion or point of view rather than an official council policy.
The next stage of the complaint would have cost ratepayers money to pursue.
“I have no interest in having monies and resources utilised on legal advice and arbitration so I ultimately decided to withdraw the complaint on the basis that Cr Hampton had made a number of concessions,” Cr Bolam said.
In June last year, a 5-3 majority of councillors voted to change Frankston Council’s communications policy to encourage staff “to create, and maintain, positive working relationships with local media outlets”.
The mayor and CEO have now started hosting meetings with the local press to answer questions each month after monthly council meetings.
The first of the monthly meetings was held on 9 April and also was attended by several council managers and officers.
Cr Hampton ordered Cr Bolam from the 3 April public council meeting after a disagreement over comments the mayor made about councillors lodging notices of motion (See “Councillor kicked out of meeting”, The Times 23/4/18).