HUGH Fraser last week resigned as a Nepean Ward councillor on Mornington Peninsula Shire Council.
His resignation, just four months after being elected for the third successive time, took his fellow councillors, shire officers and constituents by surprise.
Mr Fraser’s position on council will be filled by one of five candidates who unsuccessfully stood for Nepean Ward in last November’s municipal elections.
The winner is likely to be known in about two weeks following a countback of votes by the Victorian Electoral Commission.
The five candidates in the running to fill the vacancy are Susan Bissinger, Mechelle Cheers, Mark Davis, Simon Mulvany and Gary Naughton.
Meanwhile, decisions will be made by 10 councillors, with the chair (usually, but not necessarily, the mayor) having a casting vote if the numbers are tied.
Mr Fraser, first elected in 2012, gave 24 hours’ notice of his resignation in a letter emailed to shire CEO John Baker on Monday 8 March.
He said he had “much enjoyed working with my co-councillors” during his first two four-year terms but, since last year’s election, had had “irreconcilable points of difference” with Mr Baker.
Mr Fraser listed the areas of disagreement as being delayed spending on capital works; “best practice” amendments to council procedure rules; and councillors being told that management “may dispense with mandatory statutory and council policy requirements for community consultation”.
One major issue that under current rules has to go to “community consultation” is the decision to replace the wording of the council prayer with a pledge.
Mr Fraser, a barrister, disagreed with the shire’s in-house solicitor that the wording of a “prayer” could be changed without public consultation.
Mr Baker said it was “disappointing Cr Fraser has chosen to resign at a very busy and exciting time for council” and thanked him “for his previous two terms as a councillor”.
He said the November election – which saw eight first-time councillors elected to the 11-member council – had led to “an injection of new energy and new ideas, and a focus on new ways of doing things”.
Mr Baker said he was “extremely proud of the organisational culture we have created” and stated that despite some delays caused by COVID “every single budgeted project will be completed within a reasonable timeframe”.
He said governance rules, “which may include replacing the prayer with a pledge”, were “subject to ongoing debate by council”.
Once decided by council the rules would then be “put out for public consultation”.
The mayor Cr Despi O’Connor issued a statement thanking Mr Fraser for his years as a councillor and acknowledged “his significant contribution to the Mornington Peninsula Shire and our community”.
“We have a busy year ahead of us and look forward to welcoming the new Nepean Ward councillor to council to continue the positive and exciting work the shire is doing to improve life for our community,” Cr O’Connor said.
For the record
Hugh Fraser came to Mornington Peninsula Council as a barrister specialising in insolvency, superannuation, probate and property, particularly property fraud. He was on to the shire’s Audit and Risk Committee in 2012 and 2019.
At the time of his retirement from council he was its delegate to Friends of Lospalos, Timor Leste, appointee to Point Nepean National Park’s master plan implementation committee and a member of the International Council for Local Environment Initiatives (ICLEI Oceania) steering committee.
Among his achievements Cr Fraser lists helping establish the Rye Beach Business Association; the Rye township plan; the $3 million Blairgowrie to Rye Point Nepean Road footpath; Flinders Street, Rye park being bought from the Education Department; the Sullivan Bay $1.5m Dorothy Houghton Walk; the $1.85 George Street, Sorrento mall (plus $1.8m earmarked more car parks); and the “spectacular” Yawa Aquatic Centre being moved from the foreshore to “its rightful Besgrove Street, Rosebud site”.
Cr Fraser held a special interest in the “sound policies” on climate change and carbon neutrality “put in place” by the previous two councils.
He represented the shire at the 2015 UN Conference of the Parties COP Paris Environmental Conference and local government at the plenary session of the 2019 COP Madrid conference.
“Post council, I look forward to continuing in our communities’ work for the Timorese of Lospalos,” he said.