Has the election for the new president of the Fremantle Society been rigged?
In a sensational admission to The Fremantle Herald President Henty Farrar admitted he called a  ‘secret’ last minute committee meeting to discuss membership issues.  
 The Fremantle Herald (28th November) reported that Farrar dismissed claims that presidential candidate John Dowson had been ‘frozen out’ saying that such information was scuttlebutt. However The Fremantle Herald article continued:
“He [Farrar] acknowledged that of the two candidates, he’s only alerted Mr [Chris] Lewis to an extra meeting where supporters could be signed up as members”
A few days before the Fremantle Society’s AGM and election for a new leader  Farrar admitted that John Dowson’s campaign for the presidency is compromised because the membership list was not up to date.
Dowson said yesterday:  ” … I made two further requests for an up to date  list, but the second list I received still had the president Henty Farrar and at least 20 people I know of missing … I still have not received an up to date list and the president tells me that his name and others will be added at the AGM as they pay their money-  a total nonsense of a process”.
Last week  Fremantle Backchat discovered two entirely separate membership lists existed for the Fremantle Society.
Farrar seemed to know nothing of the second list explaining: ‘A lot of people have donated to the Society but do not want to be listed as members’.
When he was told the second list showed members’ names, their date of joining the society and the fees paid indicating membership status, Farrar was again asked: “Do you think the lack of access to a full list, containing the names of members who have joined since last November [2014], would compromise John Dowson’s campaign?” He nodded slowly in the affirmative and promised an up to date list later that day. A list was sent the following day, Sunday 29th November, but is still incomplete.
It appears from emails sent to members by Chris Lewis, the alternative candidate for presidency, that he had access to a full mailing list which included email details.
Other emails have been sent to members by Benita Dowding, the society’s membership secretary and close friend of Lewis’s.  Some  canvas support for Lewis.
Benita Dowding has asked “… do not send emails to Peter [Dowding] he has nothing to do with the Society”  but emails sent to members, using the membership list, clearly sign her as “Assistant/Peter Dowding”, giving full email and telephone contact detail.
Peter Dowding’s  management practices were exposed in the Royal Commission into WA Inc report. He was, among things,  found to have ‘acted improperly’ and to have withheld information from cabinet.
Is this practice  of withholding accurate information  reflected in Fremantle Society’s election process?  Delays in supplying information have impacted on Dowson’s campaign.
Society members this week forced President Henty Farrar to cancel the ‘secret’ committee meeting. All members are entitled to attend all committee meetings but members were not informed of  this meeting,  to be held the day before the election, to discuss last minute membership considerations. Farrar, on the advice of a committee member, cancelled the meeting but called an informal meeting.
There is little doubt about Chris Lewis’s capabilities. He was a director of the Ward Holt public relations company; has done credible work for Relationships Australia and is director of vanity publishing house Fremantle Press. Lewis ran a campaign to keep the Fremantle Dockers in the city but did show a cavalier approach to the fact it was going to cost ratepayers in excess of $100,000,000. Lewis’s strong connections with former premier Dowding must be of concern. As a skilled public relations officer Lewis is capable of ‘selling’ ideas. A question mark hangs over his admission in a mail out to members, and a Fremantle Herald report  [28th November], that he likes to work ‘under the radar’ – in secret.
Perhaps John Dowson’s strength is that he is not a PR officer. He has published many books, four on Fremantle. The content and general production quality of the books  earned several international awards and a WA Premier’s Book Award. He was a judicious city councillor, opposing low quality developments and is supported by a  group who encourage high quality. Dowson developed a new leadership style and was instrumental in saving Victoria Hall from development as well as buildings on Victoria Quay.  He tends to work quietly but is a  consultative and transparent manager,  always having facts surrounding development projects. He insists the society is a heritage group with vast knowledge of heritage matters.
The principle difference between candidates is clear. Lewis and his team have said they will cooperate with Fremantle’s council and developers.
Dowson  says  the job of the Fremantle Society is to monitor council, oppose them where necessary and encourage high quality development and restoration in order to retain the city’s heritage values and encourage commerce.
We are in an age where voters are demanding transparency in management. However Lewis, in both the Fremantle Herald and an email to society members, has said he likes to operate “under the radar”. That literally means ‘in secret’.
Lewis is backed by developers and architects, some of whom, together with associates, supported and financed Mayor Brad Pettitt’s first campaign. Lewis has said, if he becomes president, the society will work closely with council.
With current doubts about Fremantle Council’s lack of transparency and reputation for ignoring ratepayers it may be a better idea to have a president who has a solid track record of leading the Fremantle Society in what it always did well – protecting Fremantle, opposing low quality developments and supporting high quality renovation and architecture.
WA law stipulates any member of a society may ask for a list of members complete with their mailing addresses. This list may be copied. Office bearers in societies who refuse access to information face prosecution. 
Declaration. The author, Roger Garwood, is a member of the Fremantle Society and has been assisting John Dowson in his campaign.

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