A COUNCILLOR walkout forced the abandonment of the Special Purposes Committee meeting held on 19 May when two confidential items came up for debate.
Veteran council watchers could not recall any previous councillor walkout at Mornington Peninsula Shire. It was a dramatic and pivotal moment in shire events.
The meeting had reached agenda item 3, “Confidential Items”.
The minutes record that “Cr Fraser and Cr Rodgers left the meeting before consideration of this item and did not return”. Hugh Fraser and Tim Rodgers represent Nepean ward.
The meeting was then adjourned at 5.50pm. The minutes state that “Cr. Colomb left the meeting at 5:50pm during discussion of this item and did not return”. Bev Colomb is a Briars ward councillor.
The minutes continue: “Due to no quorum, the Special Purposes Committee Meeting lapsed at 6:04pm.”
It is not known what subject the confidential items covered. But it would not be surprising if one item involved the highly contentious Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre – possibly the only matter divisive enough to spark a response as unprecedented and extraordinary as a councillor walkout.
Absent from the meeting were councillors Lynn Bowden, Graham Pittock and Frank Martin, who resigned from council the following day due to ill health.
The walkout meant only five councillors remained in the chamber – Antonella Celi, David Gibb, Anne Shaw, Andrew Dixon and David Garnock – one short of a quorum.
Section 85 of the Local Government Act deals with lack of a quorum at council meetings. It gives the local government minister or a council’s chief executive officer power to require all councillors to attend a “call of the council” meeting.
If a councillor does not appear within 30 minutes of the scheduled starting time for such a meeting, or does not remain at the meeting, the council CEO “must immediately advise the Minister in writing”, the act states.
The minister may then order that “the councillor is incapable of remaining a councillor”.
These provisions are broadly aimed at preventing continued disruption of council business by recalcitrant councillors.
It is beyond contemplation that councillors Fraser, Rodgers and Colomb would not attend a call of the council meeting, or would walk out of one.
It is highly improbable that shire CEO Michael Kennedy would resort to calling such a meeting after just one, albeit dramatic, such occurrence.
What is certain that the trio were so offended by, and opposed to, the subject matter in the confidential item that they acted to highlight it. While they cannot reveal confidential information without breaching the law, matters such as this have a habit of becoming public.
While Cr Fraser, a highly experienced barrister, is in his first term as a councillor, he has rapidly made his mark as a careful and forensic operator.
Councillors Colomb and Rodgers are veterans with high reputations for probity and closely examining matters that come before council.