A Mornington Peninsula Shire councillor has been ordered to undertake personal development training at ratepayers’ expense simply for asking whether it was necessary to fly a Progress Pride flag permanently at three council offices.
Councillor Susan Bissinger says she is being censured because she asked if other councils were also flying the Pride flag. She “mentioned our community is inclusive and there is no need for a flag. Do we need division when there isn’t one? This is an inclusive shire which was demonstrated when we had one of the biggest acceptances of same sex marriage,” she told The Mornington Peninsula News.
She explained to Melbourne radio host Tom Elliott she simply questioned whether flying the flag permanently was the right thing to do. “Our people are very inclusive of diversity and the LGBTQIA+ community. Do we need to whack a flag in their face? That was my sort of question, and it’s just sort of gone crazy,” she expounded.
Councillor Bissinger’s questioning about the flag took place online during email exchanges with council staff and councillors. She told The Mornington Peninsula News that one councillor had been “very unreasonable and chastised me on email to other councillors.” She insisted she is “not a pariah or a bully.”
Ms. Bissinger who is one of two councillors representing residents from Portsea, Sorrento, Blairgowrie, Rye and Tootgarook was told by Mayor Steve Holland that her emails exhibited “poor behaviour.” He ordered her to undertake the personal development training which she is. “I’m copping it on the chin and doing it,” she said without providing any details of what it entailed.
Council chief executive John Baker cited the Local Government Act to ban the councillor from communicating with all council staff except for himself and four other senior executives. Ms. Bissinger told her local paper she found this “very strange, as members of the public can speak to staff.” She claimed the restrictive measures have caused her to feel “under siege,” and she worries they will impinge on her ability to adequately represent her constituents. “I’m pretty tough, but this is overwhelming,” she said.
Sorrento Chamber of Commerce president Julie Collins said while Ms. Bissinger’s ban “wasn’t ideal,” traders had been reassured by Mr. Baker that it would not impact their dealings with the council. “We’ve been told we’ll be able to contact the relevant council staff directly,” Ms. Collins said.
The council has refused to comment on its treatment of the councillor who insists she has “no idea what I need training about.” Councillors had previously been told that flying the rainbow flag “demonstrates that our organisation is welcoming and acknowledges our commitment to the LGBTIQA+ community”.
Dean Hurlston, who serves as president of the lobby group Council Watch, told the Herald Sun that Councillor Bissinger’s treatment evinced a “cultural crisis” in the local government and shows its leaders have “too much power. There is no other role where you can be elected by your community to represent them, only to be shut down and humiliated by council executives because they don’t like what you say or the questions you are asking.”
The councillor’s case is even making waves in the US where The Christian Post has filed a report on her treatment.
Photo: Mornington Peninsula Shire Council