Former Fraser Coast Regional Council mayor Chris Loft after his first court appearance.
Former Fraser Coast Regional Council mayor Chris Loft after his first court appearance.

Crime and corruption paper makes example of former mayor

ALMOST eight months after he was controversially jailed, former Fraser Coast mayor Chris Loft's case is being used as an educational tool for government employees.

The sacked mayor's court proceedings, and the events leading up to them, are featured as a case study in the Crime and Corruption Commission's June edition of Prevention in Focus.

According to the CCC website, "the Prevention in Focus series draws on CCC investigations to highlight specific prevention lessons for the Queensland public sector."

The June edition's stated aim is to provide "role clarity in councils" with an emphasis on "understanding the respective roles of Mayor and CEO".

"In recent investigations the Crime and Corruption Commission has seen a number of elected officials (mayors and councillors) interfere in decision making that is outside their lawful area of responsibility," the document reads.

"One such area is the recruitment of council staff, which is the designated responsibility of the chief executive officer (CEO).

"This is particularly problematic where the appointment is for a position that works closely with the mayor - for example, an executive officer or chief of staff - and the mayor seeks to appoint a friend or associate without following the proper recruitment process.

"This issue was highlighted by the conviction and jailing of former Fraser Coast Regional Council Mayor Chris Loft for attempting to orchestrate the employment of a friend as his executive officer and interfering outside his lawful role."

 

A flow chart, included in the CCC Prevention in Focus document, shows the assigned roles of mayors, councillors and council staff.
A flow chart, included in the CCC Prevention in Focus document, shows the assigned roles of mayors, councillors and council staff.

 

The June pamphlet includes email exchanges between Mr Loft and his friend and former campaign manager, Brian Downie.

While Mr Downie's name is redacted in the CCC document, he was named throughout Mr Loft's court proceedings.

Mr Downie did not face any charges.

Mr Loft was found guilty of misconduct in public office for trying to secure a senior council job for Mr Downie.

The job was to be mayoral executive officer, with a salary of $180,000 a year, plus a car, to be paid by the council, the CCC document details.

The CCC document outlines how Mr Loft allowed Mr Downie to write his own position description, "specifically tailored to his particular strengths and experience".

Emails displayed in the document also show Mr Downie urging Mr Loft to "put his foot down" about changes then-council CEO, Lisa Desmond, made to the position description.

They show Mr Loft telling Ms Desmond he had hoped "common sense would prevail with this unique position, whereby you would pass (recruitment) powers over to me."

Maryborough MP Bruce Saunders said this showed a lack of understanding of the separation of powers in government.

He said all elected officials, including councillors and mayors, had a responsibility to be transparent and to understand their roles.

Emails from Brian Downie to Chris Loft, showing attempts to influence the recruitment process for a senior council job.
Emails from Brian Downie to Chris Loft, showing attempts to influence the recruitment process for a senior council job.

"The councillors' role is to set the policy, and the CEO and staff implement the policy," Mr Saunders said.

He said politicians should never get involved in or influence employment, saying public servants needed to be free from political pressure.

"Once you step over that boundary you end up like the former mayor," Mr Saunders said.

"Set the agenda and the law and do not interfere in the process."

The CCC document says "the case of Chris Loft shows how failing to respect the separation of powers resulted in a criminal conviction and a jail sentence for misconduct in public office."

Mr Saunders said Mr Loft's inclusion in the document showed the CCC took Mr Loft's offending seriously, as did the judicial system.

Mr Loft was found guilty in November 2019 of misconduct in office and sentenced to 12 months in prison.

He served six.

An email from former Fraser Coast mayor Chris Loft to former CEO Lisa Desmond, showing his efforts to get his friend Brian Downie hired as his Mayoral Secretary.
An email from former Fraser Coast mayor Chris Loft to former CEO Lisa Desmond, showing his efforts to get his friend Brian Downie hired as his Mayoral Secretary.

When sentencing Mr Loft, District Court Judge Gary Long said the former mayor "failed to demonstrate any insight in respect of the complete and gross lack of judgment which you demonstrated in committing this offence and in the accompanying abuse of the authority of your office."

"There is a duty on this Court to mark the seriousness of it," Judge Long said.

"That is why … a term of imprisonment must be imposed for your offending."

A Fraser Coast Regional Council spokesperson said what the CCC included in its communications material was a matter for the CCC.

Current Fraser Coast Mayor George Seymour declined to comment on the document.

The Chronicle's attempts to contact Mr Loft were unsuccessful.


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