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.