Frankston Councillor Suspended Over Social Media Rates Rant

Frankston Councillor Steven Hughes has been suspended from Council for a month, partly due to social media posts comparing rates across different Council areas.

The suspension was ordered by Arbiter Shane Marshall in August, after a complex arbitration case, which involved four allegations against Cr Hughes brought by Mayor Kris Bolam on behalf of the Frankston Council.

The application for arbitration was sparked by social media posts from Cr Hughes relating to Council’s new Communications policy.

In several social media posts between February and march Cr Hughes railed against the Communications Policy, claiming all Councillor social media posts would have to go through the Mayor, implying the Mayor was a tyrant and a dictator, and comparing Council’s approval of the Policy as a “move that would make Kim Jon-Un (sic) nod in approval.”

Cr Hughes paid to boost his posts across Facebook and encouraged other residents to share them.

The Council’s Application claimed Cr Hughes posts amounted to misconduct under the Local Government Act as well as breaches of the Council’s own Code of Conduct.

Arbiter Marshall agreed that portraying the Mayor as a tyrant and dictator failed to show dignity and respect and that comparing Council to the North Korean regime did in fact, discredit the Council as a whole.

Cr Hughes had also referred to the Draft Policy as law, and failed to mention the Policy had been posted for public comment before Councillors voted on it.

The Arbiter also pointed out Cr Hughes had misinterpreted the Policy, which does allow Councillors to post on social media as long as they state clearly they are posting their own views and they don’t vilify Council.

In another post, Cr Hughes claimed Frankston Council ratepayers pay nearly 40% higher rates than those in Mornington, 38% higher than those in Greater Dandenong and 100% higher than those in Bayside.

The Arbiter agreed that this post breached the Council Code of Conduct because it discredited Council by publishing misleading material.

In particular, the Arbiter agreed with Mayor Bolam that it was incorrect for Cr Hughes to publish information regarding rates, without including qualifying information about land values in the respective Council areas.

When deciding to suspend Councillor Hughes, Arbiter Marshall noted that Cr Hughes had “..cavilled with the liability decision in a manner showing that he did not accept it. He thereby revealed a lack of insight into his misconduct and a failure to show any remorse…..”

Arbiter Marshall said there was no point asking Cr Hughes to apologise because Cr Hughes had failed to accept the findings and had shown no remorse or insight into his misconduct.

He also noted he was suspending Cr Hughes for the maximum period allowed under the Local Government Act: one month.

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