THE issue of whether or not to start Mornington Peninsula Shire Council meetings with a prayer or a pledge has received another setback.
Councillors last week voted against giving the public a say on four options for starting meetings.
The options suggested by Cr Antonella Celi included retaining the traditional prayer; rewording the prayer to delete any reference to “God”; replacing it with a pledge; or observing one minute’s silence.
Both state and federal governments start sittings with a prayer that mentions God as well as an acknowledgement of country and traditional custodians.
In December, council decided on saying a pledge rather than the prayer at the suggestion of newly-elected councillor Anthony Marsh.
Despite the change of wording, it was still listed on the agenda as a prayer In-house lawyer, governance manager Amanda Sapolu, advised that as long as what councillors were saying was called a prayer, there was no need to seek public consultation before changing the wording.
Following notice that Crs Fraser and Celi would seek to have that decision overturned, council’s January meeting was started with the unaltered prayer.
Council agreed to undertake a “process of community consultation” when amending its Governance Rules, which include the prayer. However, last week’s meeting began with the pledge, but was still listed on the agenda as a prayer.
Cr Celi’s four options motion was defeated on a 6/5 vote. Councillors in favour were Celi, Steve Holland, David Gill, Hugh Fraser and Debra Mar; against: Anthony Marsh, Despi O’Connor, Kerri McCafferty, Sarah Race, Lisa Dixon and Paul Mercurio.
Throwing further confusion into the prayer issue is a move by Cr Marsh to revoke motions carried at the same Tuesday 23 meeting to exhibit amended Governance Rules for public comment, including the prayer. His motion will be heard at council’s 9 March meeting.
Cr Celi told The News after the meeting that she had been given a “quite vague” explanation as to why her 9 February motion was not mentioned in the 23 February agenda.
“I questioned [the] governance [manager] about this oversight. The answer from governance was quite vague,” Cr Celi said.
“At this stage, the Governance Rules as an entire document has passed and will go to community consultation without a separate poll on the prayer.”
The shire did not respond by deadline when asked by The News if the public would still be consulted over the prayer or pledge issue or if the process was being held up been delayed by Cr Marsh’s to revoke the decisions made on the Governance Rules.