By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Tears and threats of legal action as councillor resigns…
Casey councillor Steve Beardon has denied wrong-doing after sensationally resigning amid a council investigation into an argument with a female councillor at Casey Civic Centre on 7 March.
He has called on Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins to step in while Mayor Sam Aziz said the council investigation would continue and also threatened legal action.
“I did nothing wrong,” he said on Friday, “which has been confirmed by another councillor and I encourage others to come forward and speak up about it.”
The complainant, Cr Milla Gilic, described herself as being left in shock and unable to stop crying after Cr Beardon allegedly unleashed “hateful”, “aggressive” and “threatening” abuse about her co-ward councillor Rosalie Crestani late after a dramatic council meeting.
Cr Flannery, the only third party witness, said he did not hear a substantial part of the abuse alleged by Cr Gilic.
He believed Cr Beardon would have been exonerated by the investigation.
According to Cr Beardon, the complainant was “abusing” Cr Rex Flannery before he stepped in.
Cr Beardon said he then “questioned” Cr Gilic about why he should apologise to Cr Crestani for taking issue with her Rise Up Australia membership during the council meeting.
Cr Beardon resigned late the following day after the council launched Code of Conduct and workplace safety investigations into the incident.
“I invite the Minister for Local government should come down an investigate if they want to take it further but I am happy to leave to them; I don’t need this.”
His resignation comes just four months after he was elected for a four-year term in October, and his second early resignation as a councillor.
He quit just 37 days into his 2003 term after councillors passed resolutions over his “unacceptable conduct”.
The resultant by-election more than a decade ago cost nearly $60,000.
Cr Beardon told Star News that councillors had sought to stop him from speaking out on both occasions.
“Why should I stay?” he said, adding that his version of events was verified by Cr Flannery.
During the meeting there was a heated debate on Cr Crestani’s proposed sister-city relationship with an Israeli city.
Cr Beardon’s attempts to link Cr Crestani’s Rise Up Australia membership were ruled out of order by Cr Aziz, and Cr Crestani demanded an apology from him.
Mayor Sam Aziz also ejected Cr Beardon from the chamber for 15 minutes for failing to sit down while the mayor spoke, and led a reprimand motion against him for criticising the mayor as well as a proposed chaplaincy program in the media.
“I challenge anyone to put themselves in this situation and remain,” Cr Beardon later said.
“It took every bit of strength. I had to put my ward first, but I can’t win.
“Thank you to all the staff who have contacted me. Thank you to our friends and locals who support us.”
Cr Beardon called for Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins to “step in” to the situation.
Mayor Sam Aziz said the investigation into Cr Beardon would continue and raised the possibility of criminal charges.
Cr Aziz said it was the second time Cr Beardon had resigned after being “brought to account”.
The induction of a replacement would be “quite costly” even though they will be chosen by countback and not a by-election, he said.
“It’s a pattern of behaviour. Every time he’s brought to account, he can’t take the heat.
“If he really cares about his residents as he says he does, he should stay away from local government.
“He’s absolutely not fit to serve in public office in any capacity.”
Cr Aziz said complaints had been lodged by three female councillors against Cr Beardon.
Cr Beardon’s alleged abuse of Cr Crestani and her family on 7 March was “corroborated” and “verifiable”, he said.
In the reprimand motion, Cr Beardon was condemned “in the strongest possible terms” for “ignorant, ill-informed, biased, inappropriate and factually incorrect comments” made to the media.
After the meeting, Cr Beardon said he’d continue to “speak out” on issues even if he risked being suspended from the council for two weeks.
He said by speaking up, he’d made the community aware of issues like the council’s China trip and the cost of the chaplaincy program.
“Yes I will speak up on behalf of my ward, and will canvass opinion and will raise issues on behalf of the community.
“Why I am elected otherwise?”
He didn’t deny a claim made in council that he’d told a female chaplain that he wouldn’t have boycotted a meeting with her if he’d known she was blonde and good looking.
Cr Beardon later said it was in context of him being “condescending back” to the chaplain, who was trying to “educate” him on Christianity.
A replacement councillor will be elected by a countback of the October 2016 election results. It will be conducted by the Victorian Electoral Commission.