by Michael Giles

COUNCILLORS behaving badly?
Nothing new you might say, and who cares about it anyway?
The point is that it could end up costing you the ratepayers of South Gippsland a hell of a lot more than it has already in legal fees and process costs if one of the injured parties decides to sue the council.
What are we talking about?
It’s not about work practices at the shire depot, traditionally an area where workplace safety is top of mind, although they could certainly look at their lack of a “long-long” policy for shirts and pants.
It’s not internal ructions within the shire offices, by all accounts a very happy place to be, and why not given that their high rates of pay cannot be matched by the likes of the Gippsland Southern Health Service, which is set to take over HACC services.
No, it’s the councillors themselves who are creating an unsafe workplace with their intimidatory tactics, bullying behaviour and threatening messages.
We witnessed the situation first-hand, after the council meeting last Wednesday, when a councillor heatedly criticised a senior officer in public and also exchanged words with the CEO and a council colleague.
Several of the female councillors, who have previously raised concerns about bullying and intimidation, have told the Sentinel-Times again lately that they are fearful of attending meetings and also of the aggressive and overbearing approach taken by some of their colleagues.
They are frankly sick, literally sick of the adversarial approach adopted during debate and are at a loss to know what to do about it, short of resigning… which sadly, several have considered doing.
We also understand that there are several investigations in progress into alleged incidents of bullying, both against staff and councillors that are yet to be resolved.
The point is that if one of the affected councillors or a staff member does decide to resign and sues the council for damages; we as ratepayers will be up the proverbial creek looking at a very big payout.
And that’s quite apart from the real damage such episodes do to the people involved.
There’s also the fact that these incidents, their fallout and the process that follows is distracting the council from the real business of running the shire, driving efficiencies and improving facilities and services.
For example, who even knows there’s an important budget process on the go at the moment?
In short, it’s got to stop.
If it doesn’t, the Minister should step in and dismiss the whole council, if we’ve not already been brought to that point by the dysfunctional nature of the council, pursuit of self-interest and alleged rorting of the councillors’ expense account.