MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire mayor Cr Despi O’Connor left five of the 11 councillors out of an email discussion because she knew they would not support changes she wanted to council’s operating rules.
“I knew I wouldn’t get their support,” Cr Despi O’Connor said last Friday.
Cr O’Connor said she had also chosen not to mention the amendments to the Governance Rules during a confidential councillor briefing before the public 14 August online council meeting.
“Yes, we could have [mentioned the amendments], but not all stuff – lots of amendments as a matter of fact, amendments from the last two meetings – [are not discussed]. So that’s not unusual.”
The amendments subsequently passed at the council meeting with a 6:5 majority have been labelled unlawful by former councillor Hugh Fraser, a barrister, although his interpretation is disputed by the shire’s in-house lawyer Amanda Sapolu (“Council denies rules ‘unlawful’” The News 27/9/21).
As shown by emails released under Freedom of Information, Cr O’Connor contacted shire CEO John Baker nearly two weeks before the 24 August meeting about reinstating several previously deleted parts of the Governance Rules.
Cr O’Connor said the parts she wanted put back in had been “best practice rules stripped back” by Cr Steve Holland and then councillor Hugh Fraser.
She said the Governance Rules preferred by Crs Holland and Fraser had been sent to councillors at short notice and “no one had a chance to read it”.
“I asked John Baker for the list of rules that got stripped out and I went through them and chose the ones that I felt needed to go through and … forwarded it to six councillors that I knew may be supportive and I just said I want your support to get these back in,” Cr O’Connor said.
However, as mayor, Cr O’Connor was unable to move the amendments at the 24 August meeting, so they were introduced one hour into the debate by Cr Sarah Race, the deputy mayor.
Cr Race at the time apologised for the lateness, saying home schooling, COVID and late nights had made it “a bit of a process for me” (“Majority rules on changes before vote” The News 19/10/21).
There have been also calls for Cr O’Connor to resign or that the process she followed – including leaving five councillors out of the email loop – to amend the Governance Rules be referred to the Local Government Inspectorate (Letters Page).
Cr O’Connor told The News on Friday (22 October) that not sending emails to five councillors was not a reason for her to resign.
“I’ve not broken any rules. We haven’t actually done the wrong thing,” she said.
“I will stand on my integrity because there is nothing that I have done wrong. I haven’t broken any rule in the Governance Rules. Not one.
“A lot of the time other councillors aren’t sharing with me as mayor. They are not [mayor] but we are … all equal in our role.
“I don’t have to contact the other five councillors, like they don’t have to send it through to anybody else.
“It’s the same, just the same, we’re all equals in these positions.
[There is] no separate rule for the mayor.”