POLICE will patrol the early voting centre in Ferntree Gully in the lead-up to Saturday's Knox Council election after a week of increasingly bitter personal conflict between candidates.
Senior Sergeant John Hess of Knox police confirmed he had advised his officers to watch over the Burwood Highway premises following complaints by Cr David Cooper, who alleged Friberg Ward candidate Tony Holland swore at the councillor's wife when she was supporting his candidacy — an allegation Mr Holland denies.
Cr Cooper said his wife was handing out electoral pamphlets at the centre last Thursday when she went inside to talk to Victorian Electoral Commission officers. He said she had inadvertently carried the election material into the voting centre with her.
He said Mr Holland told his wife she couldn't be in there with the pamphlets and she apologised and went outside. Cr Cooper alleged to the Weekly that Mr Holland continued to intimidate his wife, swearing at her twice. Mr Holland said that account of events was "not true at all".
He said the encounter at the centre had been mostly amicable, but he believed Cr Cooper was simply worried that this time he had "stiff competition in his ward" and was seeking publicity.
Senior Sergeant Hess said police would do a "drive-through" at the centre to show their presence when there weren't other pressing matters.
"We want to ensure there is no public disorder because that behaviour can lead to serious offences and we don't want it to get physical."
Monash University governance research unit director Associate Professor Ken Coghill said feuding was likely to be counter-productive because the public despaired of slinging matches at any level — "I would be surprised if it was helping their cause".
Cr Cooper is also embroiled in more election drama with rival Cr Peter Cole — who has left his seat in Baird Ward to run in Scott Ward. Both councillors have threatened legal action against each over what both describe as "defamatory" electoral material targeting them.
They have also lodged complaints with the VEC, and Cr Cole said he has complained to the Local Government Inspectorate.
He said he expected Cr Cooper to be disqualified from the election following the comments, but Cr Cooper said he was confident anything he printed would be found to be true.
Cr Cole denied anything he had sent out could be portrayed as defamatory and said he had made no personal attacks against his opponent.
Associate Professor Coghill said that once the election was over, people generally concentrate on what councillors were actually doing for the community. "But if they're elected after rough and tumble, people's attitudes can be coloured until they prove what they can do."
What do you think? Post a comment below.
COUNCIL ELECTION LETTERS
In the lead-up to this Saturday's council elections, the Weekly requires letters and comments on municipal issues submitted for publication, whether online or in print, to carry the author's or commentator's full address and telephone number, for purposes of verification only. The Weekly reserves the right to exclude material that is not fully identified. The editor's decisions will be final.