Southern Downs Regional Council building has responded to claims staff are being
Southern Downs Regional Council building has responded to claims staff are being "bullied and intimidated by management. Kerri Moore

Council rocked by shocking bullying claims

SOUTHERN Downs Regional Council has hit back at claims of bullying, after allegations surfaced in the media this week.

An article in a community newspaper yesterday brought to light claims of "bullying and intimidation" by council management, which one source, who the Warwick Daily News spoke to yesterday, said was a cause of emotional distress for their family.

The council yesterday confirmed CEO David Keenan and human resources director Brook March were the subject of formal complaints, but denied these were related to bullying, or that the council had a culture of such behaviour.

Mayor Tracy Dobie said there were no bullying complaints active within the council, all complaints relating to elected officials and council employees were investigated thoroughly, and the people who had gone to the media were a minority out to cause trouble.

"It is disappointing that a small minority of employees consider it appropriate to pull out the 'bullying card' when they are asked to do their job," she said.

The council did acknowledge the formal complaints made against the CEO and human resources manager, have cost $12,000 to investigate. But they said it was not about bullying.

A council employee's partner also lodged a complaint against Cr Dobie, which was referred to an independent investigator at a cost of $2000.

It is anticipated an additional $12,000 will be expended in relation to the current complaints made about the CEO and HR manager.

The council's Anti-Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity Policy operates in conjunction with legislation to ensure employees are provided with a work environment where they are treated fairly and with respect, free from discrimination, harassment, vilification and bullying.

Cr Dobie said she was 'extremely disappointed' in the recent article, "where the comments of a small minority were purported to reflect the culture of the council", which she said was not the case.

The Mayor said it was the expectation of the council that employees would attend work and undertake their duties in a productive manner and in accordance with council policies and procedures.

"The complaints are being made by a small number of people with the complaints being the same and relating to the same tenet," Cr Dobie said.

"The complaints are being made on a variety of fronts against me, the CEO and senior staff. It is frustrating complainants are in effect 'agency shopping', hoping for a different outcome when claims are not substantiated and that they turn to social and other forms of media as a last resort.''

Employees have the opportunity to address any form of conduct contrary to EEO laws informally or through the formal complaints procedure.

"Council does recognise that there are pressures on employees at work and at home, which is why employees are provided access to confidential counselling through Council's Employee Assistance Program," Cr Dobie said.

"It is recognised that employment at Southern Downs Regional Council is well sought after and that there are high expectations from the community regarding productivity and professionalism.

"Council continues its commitment to providing excellent working conditions and benefits for its staff."

The Daily News understands council policy prohibits employees, with the exception of councillors, from speaking to the public about their roles in council.

During the past 12 months, the Daily News has found it increasingly difficult to speak with elected officials, with councillors advised not to speak to media in regards to issues that are not directly related to their assigned portfolios.

In two cases known to the Daily News, staff members were disciplined for speaking to the media in regards to non-council matters.

The complainant said the problem had affected former staff. "I know people who have previously worked for council and have started their own businesses since, and still will not speak out because they can't risk...their business.

"Staff members have been told they are not allowed to talk about what's going on at work, so they bottle it and it's difficult for us as family to be able to talk to them."

"I believe it is something they keep sweeping under the carpet."

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