By Gav Ross and Michael Giles
Cr Phil Wright angrily marched out of last week’s council meeting after a very public disagreement with Mayor Neil Rankine. G051214
BAD behaviour by our civic leaders appears to be catching on after Bass Coast Shire Councillor, Phil Wright, abused the mayor last week and stormed from the council chambers only weeks after a former South Gippsland mayor had done something similar.
In Cr Wright’s case, he told the Mayor, Cr Neil Rankine, to “shove it” after being warned about his behaviour at last Wednesday night’s council meeting.
Three weeks earlier, South Gippsland’s Cr Kieran Kennedy is alleged to have said something far worse to Cr Lorraine Brunt, an outburst which had its sequel at last week’s council meeting when the former mayor was officially carpeted by the Mayor, Cr Jim Fawcett.
The incident at Bass Coast occurred towards the end of last Wednesday’s meeting when Cr Wright was on the verge of losing the second Notice Of Motion he’d put forward for the night.
Attempting to gain support from his colleagues for a community meeting to be set up to discuss a way forward for public open space on Phillip Island, Cr Wright lost his cool when Cr Rankine said he’d be voting against it.
“So your choice is do nothing, Neil?” Cr Wright retorted.
“Rather than try to work it out, you’d rather do nothing?”
“Cr Wright, you must stop having a go at an individual,” Cr Rankine replied in an even tone.
“If you want to achieve anything you must work with your fellow councillors.”
Cr Wright continued in the same heated tones for a few moments longer before the Mayor warned him he would be asked to leave if he didn’t let it rest.
“OK, I’m leaving then,” Cr Wright responded as he stood up, grabbing his notes and jacket.
“You shove it. You do nothing all the time,” he added as he marched towards the door.
The chamber was left bewildered but the meeting continued, with Cr Wright’s public open space motion lost.
Observers would have noticed that Cr Wright’s ‘sudden’ outburst did not come out of the blue – he had subtly been leading up to it all night.
Only 10 minutes prior, when another one of his motions was discussed, this time regarding the long-term management of foreshore committees throughout the shire, Cr Wright made a passing comment in his right of reply.
“I differ greatly from you, Mr Mayor, (because) you think problems are solved by being nice… and that’s called avoidance,” he said.
Cr Rankine let it pass by asking Cr Wright to stick to the motion.
But it didn’t end there.
Earlier still, when discussion turned to a $5000 grant for the Wonthaggi Power Football Netball Club’s lighting project, Cr Wright asked: “Do you know what a football is?” when the Mayor made positive comments about the project.
Speaking to the Sentinel-Times after the meeting, Cr Wright made his apologies for the incident.
“It was wrong to walk out last Wednesday,” he said.
“With the new council, we have worked hard to develop respect and a productive team spirit.
“It is one thing to have disagreements behind closed doors; it is irresponsible to let the broader community witness disagreements.
“I apologise to my fellow councillors.
“The management of council land on the south coast of the island is the critical issue for the future economy of the shire.
“While the Mayor is welcome to conclude that the proposed motion will not work, it was beyond my tolerance to have him reject the motion but not come up with a solution.
“There is something about ‘do nothing’ that triggers a negative reaction.
“Councillors are elected to lead and ‘do nothing’ is not an option in managing our coasts and protecting our vegetation.”
Three months’ leave
At last Wednesday afternoon’s South Gippsland Council meeting, one of the first orders of business for the day was a statement by Cr Jim Fawcett about “an incident” at the February 26 council meeting when it is alleged that Cr Kennedy used the worst possible four-letter word in a tirade of abuse against Cr Lorraine Brunt.
The result is that the Promontory Coast Councillor is still in the dog house and will be for the next three months.
Referring to the incident involving Cr Kennedy and Cr Brunt, he said he had been in discussion with Cr Kennedy who subsequently offered the following apology “to council, staff and community of South Gippsland”.
“I, Cr Kennedy, wish to unreservedly and sincerely apologise for my offensive behaviour towards Cr Brunt at a meeting of council on 26 February, 2014. My behaviour was unacceptable and I intend, with the approval of council to take extended leave so that I may work on those issues and ensure such behaviour will not occur again.”
Cr Fawcett repeated what he had written in the Mayor’s Message that such behaviour was not acceptable, however he said there was a need to recognise that “we do work in a stressful environment and at times some things are said that shouldn’t be said.”
He accepted the apology and council voted to grant Cr Kennedy leave of absence from the April and May meetings, together with all the normal duties of a councillor.
He is expected to return for the June 25 council meeting.
Cr Kennedy is, however, still receiving his monthly councillor’s allowance although he has given up the use of the ratepayer-funded car.