Behind scenes advice a Topsy service

Councillors’ counsellor: Ex-Kingston mayor Topsy Petchey is now in the consultancy business.

Councillors’ counsellor: Ex-Kingston mayor Topsy Petchey is now in the consultancy business.

NEW councillors elected this weekend who have never served on council may get a helping hand from mentorship services provided by a former Kingston councillor and mayor.

Topsy Petchey, a four-time Kingston mayor and councillor for eight years until 2008, has been a consultant for hire to both Frankston and Mornington Peninsula Shire councils in the past few years.

Her TePee Pty Ltd business offers mentorship, mediation and consultation advice and help for councils and companies.

Frankston Council confirmed $59,695 was paid to Ms Petchey over two council terms, totalling eight years, for work done to assist council and councillors.

Mornington Peninsula Shire advised that $70,600 had been paid to provide advice to councillors and help with performance reviews since October 2012, the start of the previous four-year council term.

Ms Petchey often helps councillors discuss the appointment of a council chief executive officer and the CEO’s key performance targets.

Frankston councillor Sandra Mayer, one of several councillors who consulted with Ms Petchey, said the former Kingston mayor taught her about the challenges facing councillors.

Cr Mayer said she found the mentorship service invaluable and felt a lot of councillor infighting over the past two years at Frankston Council may not have happened if Ms Petchy had been on hand to give advice.

“She’s a really genuine person who is passionate about local government,” Cr Mayer said.

Frankston Council payments to Topsy Petchey*

All councillors: $28,467

CEO and officers: $3237

Sandra Mayer: $9807

Kris Bolam: $8250

Christine Richards: $2242

Brian Cunial: $1787

Glenn Aitken: $1018

Colin Hampton: $633

David Asker: $274

Alistair Wardle: $274

*Payments allocated during two council terms between 2008-2016

Mornington Peninsula Shire refused to provide a breakdown
of payments per councillor and CEO.

“It’s a bit disappointing in this term we had people saying they’d be fine without external assistance.

“This council was not interested in engaging with her and if they had they may have seen things from a different perspective – you’re not there for yourself, you’re there for your community.”

Former councillor Kris Bolam, hoping to be re-elected when council election results are announced on 30 October, said he had also consulted with Ms Petchy when he was a first-time elected representative to council.

Mr Bolam has previously criticised council for “wasting” money on consultants.

“As a new council we required a steady hand to help ensure that infighting and personality clashes did not occur,” he said.

“Topsy provided a great deal of advice in preventing the infighting and personality clashes that we see at council.

“There is a good use of consultants and a bad use where the value can’t be accounted for.”

Mr Bolam said with six new councillors in the 2008 intake of elected representatives, Ms Petchey’s advice was beneficial to get newcomers up to speed quickly.

Frankston Council was happy to provide a breakdown of the fees paid to Ms Petchey’s consultancy company, including the allocation of costs to each councillor, but Mornington Peninsula Shire was less forthcoming in releasing information about how ratepayers’ money is spent.

Shire media communications manager Mark Kestigian said caretaker provisions in force in the lead up to council elections on 22 October meant council could not release information that may affect the elections outcome.

The News requested the information from the shire three weeks before the elections caretaker period began on 20 September and regularly asked when the information would be provided only to then be told the information would not be provided.

Departing shire mayor Graham Pittock, who is not seeking re-election, was more open about the use of Ms Petchey’s consultancy services.

“Usually it’s the mayor and maybe a councillor might occasionally ask her for advice,” he said.

“It’s good to have someone to provide independent advice. She’s highly regarded and her advice is sought after. Overall, I think we get value for money.”

Ms Petchey told The News she does not advertise her company’s services and is approached by councils when they need independent advice on matters such as CEO contracts.

“When you’re first elected you don’t know what you don’t know. And it would have helped me, even 10 years ago, if someone said ‘this is available to do, just tap into it’ because you’re learning on the job and so many people have never had this sort of experience,” Ms Petchey said.

“I also can do the facilitation of discussions councillors have around the mayoral election – basically ensure it’s a process that stands up to scrutiny and everyone is able to present if they want to be mayor.”

She said she had not done any work for Frankston Council over the past two turbulent years.

Cr Pittock believed new councillors can benefit from mentorship advice.

“Next year we’ll have a minimum of seven new councillors and there’s so much to learn and they do need a reliable mentor.”

Fees for mentorship services are not solely listed as a councillor training expense at Frankston Council.

“Payments for various professional services provided by Topsy Petchey have been allocated to relevant areas of council’s budget as determined by the service provided,” council CEO Dennis Hovenden said.

“This includes training and development, consultancy and others as deemed appropriate.”

Mornington Peninsula Shire has been secretive about councillor expenses this council term and has refused to release the figures for the full council term before council elections.

More than $30,000 of ratepayers’ money, excluding council officers’ time, has been spent by Frankston Council on arbitration hearings into councillors’ misconduct during this council term.

First published in the Mornington News – 25 October 2016


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