Sunday, August 1, 2021

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HomeIssue 19Councillors split on bullying in chambers

Councillors split on bullying in chambers

By OSCAR PERRI

Alice Springs Town Councillors are in disagreement about whether there is a culture of bullying in chambers, following an emotional statement at Tuesday’s meeting from Cr Marli Banks about her personal experiences.

She says she has been subjected to treatment from a “group of power” among councillors that is in line with the definition of bullying in council’s code of conduct from within months of her election to council.

Early in her time in council Cr Banks was hospitalised due to an incident caused by stress from council, and says she brought the issue to the public as she is again worried about her health.

The behaviour has been described as personal attacks, intimidation and undermining.

Councillors Jimmy Cocking and Catherine Satour both described the statement as “brave”, but others elected members disagree that bullying takes place in the council chambers.

Cr Banks had been having ongoing conversations with the former CEO, and made sure to bring the issue to the attention of current CEO Robert Jennings as soon as he started in the position.

“When he first started I ensured that I took the opportunity to talk to him about the culture within the council and my personal experience.”

“[Later] my partner and I both went and saw the CEO, because of an incident that had happened that I’d been notified on that I had concerns with, and that never eventuated anywhere.

“I’ve actually stopped having one on one meetings with the CEO because I don’t actually think that it goes anywhere.”

Cr Banks says that this dissatisfaction is the reason she decided to make a public statement on her experiences, but is also considering making a formal code of conduct complaint.

Responsibilities outside of council of caring for her children and running a business impact Cr Banks’ availability. She says that she has made it clear that meeting times like 7am are difficult for her to attend due to her circumstances, but has received little effort to be accommodated.

“It seems that if you’re not within the group of power … then you’re insignificant.”

In recent years, “toxic bullying cultures” have come to light in some councils around the country, with effects ranging from mass exodus of staff, lawsuits, administrators being appointed, firing of executives, and major investigations. Notably Cairns, Warnambool, Shoalhaven and Toowoomba councils have had serious issues with the impacts of bullying cultures in their organisations.

Deputy Mayor Jacinta Price says she does not think there is substance to the statement of Cr Banks.  

“I don’t believe she’s been directly bullied, I haven’t witnessed any direct bullying toward the councillor.

“If she feels she has been, then I would urge her to make an official complaint.”

Responsibility for the behaviour tolerated in council chambers lie with the meeting chair, a role usually filled by Mayor Damien Ryan, according to councillors Cocking and Eli Melky, who both say there is little done currently in the chamber to call out bad behaviour. 

When asked about bullying in the chamber, Mayor Ryan told ABC radio on Wednesday that he does not agree that it happens, but would call it out if he did.

In a recent confidential meeting, Cr Banks was sworn at by another elected member, and Cr Melky says this was one of the rare occasions that he has seen the chair pull up a member for their behaviour in the council chamber.

“You can sit in the chamber and it’s quite evident. The scoffing and the eye rolling and the things that go on when Cr Banks is raising issues.

“The challenge with this sort of thing is that sometimes the people who are at fault don’t necessarily think or understand or see themselves being at fault, and ultimately end up blaming the victim,” Cr Cocking said, committing to work harder to call out bullying in the chamber when he sees it.

Cr de Brenni was asked if he supported Cr Banks’s statement or had witnessed any bullying in the chamber, but he refused to answer any questions about bullying.

10 COMMENTS

  1. When “boys and girls” play together one side generally comes off second best. This applies to big people too. Strong people rise above it, others fall to their knees and blame, blame and blame. Cure: If it’s too hot in the kitchen get out of it and let the strong keep cooking.

  2. “I’ve actually stopped having one on one meetings with the CEO because I don’t actually think that it goes anywhere.”
    Marli, you are not Robinson Crusoe there.
    Whilst the CEO may tell you he is listeneing to you and suggests he will “look into things and get back to you (whcih he very rarely does)” and tell you to contact him if you have any further concerns or require any further information, it’s just plan old lipservice and stonewalling.

  3. @ Allen Byrne. Allen, are you suggesting we should let the bullies rule the playground?
    Whilst that may have worked in Neanderthal Man days, I suggest in the modern, contemporary 21st Century calling out bullies … sorry, “the strong” … is something we should all do.

  4. Management action that isn’t carried out in a reasonable way may be considered bullying.

  5. From a young lad, myself and indeed most of my family and those I mixed with, were encouraged to stand on our own two digs and get on with it.
    We put the so called “bullies” back in their place, unlike today where it is encouraged to fall to your knees and cry, BULLY.
    For God’s sake and Australia’s sake stand up for yourself.
    You have become a race of bloody sooks and anyone with a backbone is seen as a bully because most of you are as I previously said YOU HAVE BEEN ENCOURAGED TO BECOME SOOKS.
    I make no apologies if this comment offends, if it does you are a S..K.

  6. @ Evelyne: It would come down to if she is considered a worker, and if those she accuses can be considered as management.
    As an elected member of local government she may not be deemed a worker, or even an “other”.
    Members of a council are elected by ratepayers, so who are her managers, the CEO, or the voters who elected her? Do the voters have a duty? I would not think so.
    Are they employed, or elected? There was a very interesting case regarding NSW police, in a similar circumstance, where the legal argument was “are the police employees?” One argument was that they were not, as they are not employed by the commissioner of police, rather they are appointed as constable, and as such the coverage of workers compensation could be challenged.
    I do not have the link to that case, nor do I know the result. But I do know that it may need to be determined by an exhaustive, and potentially very expensive legal process.

  7. @ Ray: Alice Springs Town Council has a policy setting a code of professional conduct in accordance with sections 77-78 and schedule 2 of the Local Government Act.
    Decision number 21073 to be reviewed on 30/6/2021.
    Owner: CEO.
    Responsible Officer: Manager Governance.
    Section 4: Prohibition on bullying. A single incident of unreasonable behaviour, while not bullying, may still create a risk to health and safety and will not be tolerated by Council.

  8. @ Allen Byrne: Allen, I don’t find your comment offensive at all, but I do find your sentiments archaic and démodé.

    @ Ray: Here is a link to the Victorian incident.

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