Whittlesea councillor request denied

by Jackson Russell

CITY of Whittlesea councillors have rejected Cr Mary Lalios’ request for a leave of absence following an alleged bully complaint made against CEO Simon Overland.

Cr Lalios took offence to an email sent by Mr Overland to her and copied to all councillors accusing her of inappropriate behaviour at an April meeting with council officers.

Cr Lalios, who has not attended a council meeting since April, sent a letter to council before its Tuesday, September 4 meeting, requesting a leave of absence as she is unable to attend meetings while a WorkCover claim made by her against council is being investigated.

After much discussion and more than an hour of it being discussed in confidential business with a large gallery waiting outside, Cr Lalios’ leave was put to a vote and subsequently declined.

It was also moved that council table a report on an independent investigation into an alleged bullying complaint made by Cr Lalios against CEO Simon Overland.

The Whittlesea Review understands a WorkCover claim made by Cr Lalios has been accepted, while the independent investigation was made by the City of Whittlesea under the Local Government Act.

The motion was carried with Councillors Ricky Kirkham, Norm Kelly and Alahna Desiato in opposition.

The letter sent by Cr Lalios to the acting CEO was read out at the council meeting but not distributed to councillors or recorded in the minutes.

“This report contains material that is both false and defamatory of me and should not be publicly tabled, until such time I have to obtain legal advice and correspond with you further,” the letter said.

“The report should be placed in the confidential part of the agenda to prevent further damage to me and my reputation.

“I have consistently maintained that the complaint under the Local Government Act was not made and I was medically unfit to participate in the interview process.

“Medical evidence was provided in support of my position. Nevertheless, the investigation was conducted in my absence in a denial of natural justice.

“The report contains confidential medical information. I will be considering my legal options.”

The report was compiled by independent investigator, barrister Naomi Lenga.

According to the report, Cr Lalios’ bullying complaint came after Mr Overland sent her an email addressing alleged inappropriate behaviour from Cr Lalios at an April meeting.

Mr Overland’s email was addressed to Cr Lalios, as well as all councillors and council’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT).

It was alleged that Cr Lalios questioned a council officer in a way that was inconsistent with the Protocol for Councillor and Council Staff Interactions.

According to the report, Cr Lalios’ reply, in which she alleges bullying behaviour towards her, constituted a complaint about the CEO per the Local Government Act.

The reply from Cr Lalios stated, among other things, that it was a breach of her privacy to copy councillors and the ELT in the email about alleged behaviours and alleging her conduct could be viewed as workplace bullying.

Following the complaint, numerous attempts were made to arrange an interview with Cr Lalios as part of the investigation process, all of which she failed to attend.

In her findings, Ms Lenga dismissed the complaint, stating Mr Overland was justified in sending his email and copying all councillors and the ELT, and there is no evidence of bullying.

Probity auditor Frances O’Brien QC found in her report Cr Lalios ‘unreasonably failed to comply with a requirement to provide cogent medical information as to why she could not attend for interview about her complaint and to give reasonable assistance by doing so in a timely manner’.

According to Ms O’Brien’s report, Cr Lalios was asked on six occasions between June 5 and August 10 to supply medical evidence as to why she was incapable of attending a private interview with a support person of her choosing but was able to ‘conduct an extensive public life for the Municipal Association of Victoria including meetings with the Secretary of the Department of Local Government, television interviews and issuing press releases’.

According to the report, on August 20, Cr Lalios supplied written material under conditions which restricted access to only Ms O’Brien and Ms Lenga. She also refused to remove the conditions when asked to do so.

Ms O’Brien’s executive summary said none of the material provided excuses why cogent medical information was not supplied between June 5 and August 22 and council observed due probity in dealing with the complaint.