Whittlesea council has become an “unsafe” working environment, according to a former mayor.
Cr Lawrie Cox – who was mayor for the past 12 months – has called for Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek, Local Government Victoria or the municipal inspector to take action in light of Simon Overland’s decision to take indefinite leave from his job as the council’s chief executive.
Mr Overland announced his leave on November 20, citing concerns about his health and safety.
He blamed the behaviour of some councillors for his decision.
“… In many respects the behaviours of some councillors have deteriorated, therefore increasing the risks to health and wellbeing,” he said in a statement released by the council.
“The situation has been very difficult now for two years, but with recent changes on council, I now regrettably find my own health and safety significantly affected.”
Cr Cox told Star Weekly instances of “abuse, harassment and bullying” by some councillors had “intensified” since the council’s November 7 statutory meeting during which Cr Emilia Lisa Sterjova was appointed mayor.
“I believe the City of Whittlesea has become an unsafe working environment for our staff,” he said.
“Staff have been very uncomfortable because one thing the CEO did do was protect his staff.”
Cr Cox said the government had a responsibility to act.
“We cannot have people attempting to do their job in this environment,” he said.
“It is up to the local government minister to decide whether a monitor or administrator is a better outcome … at this time, as a councillor, I would be happy with either…”.
Cr Cox said Mr Overland has “been under the hammer” for the past two years, adding he felt a couple of councillors were determined to remove Mr Overland from his position.
Cr Sam Alessi said Mr Overland’s leave highlighted the need for some councillors to think about their behaviour.
“Simon came in and put in place a reform agenda that needed to be done because of the way councillors behaved,” he said.
Cr Norm Kelly, who last December called for Mr Overland to step down without pay until the Lawyer X Royal Commission concluded, said he didn’t understand how a change in mayor had led to Mr Overland taking leave.
“I can’t see how a little 23-year-old uni student can be the change ,” he said.
“There is still the same 11 councillors that have been there for the last three years. There is no difference to the make-up [of council] other than the mayor has changed.”