Tarwin Valley councillor steps down

Michelle Slater

South Gippsland shire councillor Maxine Kiel quit amid allegations of “bullying, intimidation and harassment” from other councillors but still encouraged more women to stand for local council.

The councillor for Tarwin Valley ward announced she was standing down immediately last Wednesday night, after being elected to council in 2016.

An electoral countback will take place to find her replacement.

“It was a tough decision to make and I took this decision seriously. I’m disappointed and disillusioned. I’ve struggled with the behaviour of other councillors and the way it’s been dealt with,” Ms Kiel said.

“It’s an appalling situation, and I’m talking about the way councillors talk to other councillors and the mayor and the horrendous emails you get. You are not free to speak your mind.”

The Mirboo North resident believed she had been intimidated for questioning other councillors’ behaviour.

Ms Kiel believed gender had played a role in what she described as an environment where “they prey on intimidation” and said it continued into briefing sessions and “bombardments” of emails.

“I tried to speak about this last year, but it just got brushed under the carpet,” she said.

The state government appointed a municipal monitor in June to oversee South Gippsland for 12 months, and Ms Keil said she would be assisting him with his investigations.

Ms Kiel said she would focus on working with grassroots community organisations and was excited about the positive and actively engaged community in Mirboo North.

She said she wanted more women in local government to instigate a culture-shift and a greater gender balance and said the mayor Lorraine Brunt had been very supportive.

“It’s not for the faint-hearted, but in the right environment, women will blossom. I know there are many women who make fantastic leaders,” she said.

South Gippsland mayor Lorraine Brunt described Ms Kiel as a “diligent and capable community representative”, but understood and respected her decision.

“While Cr Kiel was concerned that she was letting down me and the community, nothing could be further from the truth,” Cr Brunt said.

“She did her best in trying circumstances. She can hold her head high and be proud of her achievements. A woman of remarkable integrity, she will be missed.”