SUSPENDED Frankston councillor Steven Hughes is facing more allegations of serious misconduct.
Hughes has defied an arbiter’s order to apologise to council staff for his handling of a petition last year. Arbiter Matthew Evans found that Hughes had failed to treat council staff with “dignity, fairness, objectivity, courtesy, and respect”.
The deadline for the apology has passed, and Hughes has refused to say sorry.
Frankston councillors voted to apply for a councillor conduct panel at their 20 February meeting, alleging Hughes had engaged in “multiple acts of serious misconduct”. Hughes’ refusal to apologise, and a series of bizarre Facebook posts made last month which mentioned North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, were listed as reasons for the application (“Kim Jong-Un ‘helps restore democracy’” The Times 6/2/23).
The suspended Hughes and his son, councillor Liam Hughes, were absent from the chamber when the vote to apply for the conduct panel was taken. Steven Hughes is already expected to face a councillor conduct panel later this year to defend a separate serious misconduct allegation.
The petition which sparked the latest issue was from residents on Ozone Avenue. In a new social media post made on 21 February, Hughes doubled down on his decision not to apologise to council staff. He wrote “apologising to a council that acts as unethically and disrespectfully towards Frankston residents, whether they be in Seaford, Langwarrin or beyond, is entirely unacceptable.”
“I recognise the seriousness [of] my decision. Failure to apologise will lead to further legal action, a guaranteed suspension and possible dismissal from council,” Hughes wrote. “While I will not say sorry to council I will apologise to you, the residents of Frankston, for the relentless development that is destroying the liveability of Frankston. Frankston has the potential to be the premier city on the bay. Instead we have congestion from non-stop townhouse development, crumbling roads, nature reserves bulldozed and a CBD that resembles Pripyat (Chernobyl) circa 1986, all while you pay the highest rates in the bayside region.”
Councillor Kris Bolam said that Hughes’ social media activity and lack of apology to council staff “is something we should take very seriously, and councillors should be calling out this kind of misbehaviour.”
“What we are seeing right now throughout the world is the rise of the uninformed voter. What I mean by that is people nowadays aren’t reading their local papers, and they’re not reading reputable media sources. They’re getting their information off social media websites where there isn’t any editorial oversight, and they’re getting their comments and knowledge from unvetted sources,” Bolam said. “When an elected representative spreads misinformation and perpetuates misinformation, I take that even more seriously.”
Frankston Council CEO Phil Cantillon has confirmed that council has “appointed mayor Nathan Conroy to be its representative in respect of the application and authorised mayor Nathan Conroy to finalise and submit the application.”
In relation to the separate ongoing councillor conduct panel application made against Steven Hughes, Cantillon said the matter “is proceeding”.
“It is a confidential matter and there is no further comment,” he said.
Hughes is currently suspended from council. Last month an arbiter found he had breached council’s code of conduct four times (“Councillor served with second suspension” The Times 31/1/23). His suspension was made effective from 31 January, and will last one month.
Hughes was also suspended for a month in 2021 after the conclusion of a separate arbitration process – Hughes’ social media posts comparing council’s local laws to those found in North Korea landed him in hot water.
Hughes was contacted for comment.