By Evelyn Leckie
FORMER City of Whittlesea mayor Lawrie Cox has described the current situation within council as ‘totally chaotic’ following the departure of chief executive Simon Overland.
Mr Overland has taken temporary leave from the council, citing that his ‘health and safety’ has been significantly affected, pointing the blame at ‘the behaviours of some councillors’.
Cr Cox said council staff, from Mr Overland and executive leadership to lower management, had been exposed to ‘an ongoing, prolonged attack of harassment and verbal abuse by some individual councillors’.
“It is unacceptable for a councillor to intimidate, use verbal abuse, emotional bullying tactics against the staff who are unable to respond when giving professional advice in their official capacity,” Cr Cox said.
“Some councillors have lacked self-control and have overstepped the mark. I’ve seen some councillors calling staff members incompetent – it’s unacceptable.”
The former mayor said affected staff members had been taking sudden leave due to the alleged bullying.
“It’s complete chaos at this present time,” he said.
The comments follow similar statements Mr Overland made before his departure.
“Interactions between councillors and interactions between some councillors and my staff, is not in keeping with contemporary requirements to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for all,” Mr Overland said.
“The behaviours of some councillors have deteriorated, therefore increasing the risks to health and wellbeing.”
Cr Cox said staff had asked the mayor and acting chief executive Kelvin Spiller what protections were being given in relation to bullying.
“They haven’t been given an answer,” he said.
“Last year was a good year as the CEO enforced corporate governance on us all without fear or favour.
“As the mayor at the time I agreed with the protocols employed and still do now.
“The acting CEO simply needs to do the same thing and quickly allow the return of the professional staff to enable the City of Whittlesea to function as it should.”
Cr Cox said the local government inspector will be looking into the bullying claims and Worksafe Victoria had been notified.
The Review asked City of Whittlesea Mayor Emilia Sterjova specific questions in relation to Cr Cox’s claims – Cr Sterjova issued the following statement: “Whittlesea, just like all councils around the state and across the country, strives to provide a safe workplace for all,” she said.
“It would be inappropriate for me to speculate or comment on specific matters relating to staff members’ personal circumstances.”