HISTORIC: Loft first mayor in Queensland to be sacked
CHRIS Loft's 669 days as Fraser Coast Mayor has dramatically ended after a historic sacking.
At 10am yesterday, Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe recommended the governor-in-council dismiss Cr Loft.
He is the first minister to exercise the power under the Local Government Act in Queensland history.
Mr Hinchliffe released a video statement addressing Fraser Coast ratepayers, saying the mayor's repeated findings of misconduct and inappropriate behaviour had forced his hand.
Since Cr Loft had been elected in 2016, he had been found guilty of 11 findings of misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.
"Given the flagrant nature of Councillor Loft's breaches, I am satisfied that dismissal is the right course of action," Mr Hinchliffe said.
"I have formed the view that Councillor Loft still does not understand his legislative responsibilities and is not truly remorseful for his past behaviour.
"Even genuine remorse could not alter the fact that Councillor Loft has made serial breaches of the Local Government principles outlined in the Local Government Act.
"I have not taken this decision lightly."
Speculation on Cr Loft's future had grown since former Local Government Minister Mark Furner issued a notice of intention to suspend last year on December 5 for the repeated findings.
The suspension notice was revoked on January 25 by newly sworn-in Minister Hinchliffe, who gave Cr Loft seven days to show cause why he should not be dismissed under the Local Government Act.
"The likelihood that Councillor Loft may continue to engage in similar conduct in future is something that I'm not prepared to take a risk on," he said yesterday.
The findings include breaches of the councillor's code of conduct, repeated inappropriate use of media, failure to comply with the council's IT systems policy, use of his position to influence an employee of a council-controlled entity to covertly provide financial information, improper disclosure of confidential council information to a third party and failure to comply with the council's public interest disclosure policy.
Last year, Cr Loft made three public apologies in council meetings after misconduct rulings were upheld by Local Government tribunals.
On his official Facebook page, Cr Loft said he was "upset and disappointed" by the decision.
"I am considering my position and, in the meantime, do not wish to make any other comments," his post read.
The Fraser Coast now faces a three month wait for a by-election to determine who will become the next mayor.
Deputy mayor George Seymour will assume the role of acting mayor until then. Fraser Coast Regional Council CEO Ken Diehm said his immediate priority would be working with councillors to "bring stability to our organisation" and "restore community confidence".
"My role as CEO is to serve the council and the community, regardless of who sits in the mayoral position," Mr Diehm said.
"Chris and I worked well together and I am genuinely grateful for the personal trust he placed in me to lead the administration of the council during this difficult time."
Cr Seymour said the past 12 months had not been ideal for council staff and the community.
He lamented the saga had shifted the public spotlight "away from some of the great work being done by our council".
"There is an expectation from the community that as a council we will provide leadership and stability," Cr Seymour said.
"I understand that it may take some time to fully restore public confidence in our council but I hope that today's changes may serve as a fresh start and way forward for us all."
When asked about his thoughts on Cr Loft's dismissal, Cr Seymour said it was "sad" to see him go.
"I sit next to him, I've known him for six years now, and I'm genuinely sorry to see this type of thing happen in someone's life," he said.
Under section 153 of the Local Government Act, Cr Loft is disqualified from being a councillor until the next election in 2020.
A spokesman from the Department of Local Government, Infrastructure and Planning told the Chronicle Cr Loft may be able to appeal the decision through the Supreme Court.
"However, Cr Loft would need to be guided by his own legal advice regarding his appeal rights," the spokesman said.
President of the Local Government Association of Queensland Mark Jamieson said it was "disappointing" Cr Loft was dismissed.
"I would rather have seen the issues surrounding Cr Loft resolved through negotiation and conciliation not his dismissal from the council," Mr Jamieson told the Chronicle.
"I am advised that due process was followed in the Minister's action."
Do you think the Minister made the right decision? Let us know at editorial@frasercoast chronicle.com.au