Second Latrobe City councillor found to have engaged in misconduct

Michelle Slater

A second Latrobe City councillor has been found to have engaged in misconduct within two months in relation to comments made at a closed doors council briefing session in July last year.

An independent arbiter found former Latrobe City mayor Cr Sharon Gibson had failed to treat council staff with “dignity, fairness, objectivity, courtesy, and respect”.

Cr Gibson was ordered to complete a one-day emotional intelligence course after the arbiter found she had breached the councillor code of conduct.

Latrobe City councillors accepted the internal arbitration report at council’s ordinary May meeting, after the application was lodged by councillors Dan Clancey, Tracie Lund and Bradley Law.

It comes after a panel had found South Ward Cr Melissa Ferguson had engaged in misconduct after she had made abusive and threatening statements towards a council officer last year.

The engagement led to the former Latrobe City general manager Suzanne Miller handing in her resignation, claiming it had become an unsafe workplace.

Cr Ferguson delivered an apology at the May council meeting as part of actions directed by the councillor conduct panel determination.

Cr Gibson’s comments were made in discussions around the lease arrangements for the former Moe Library and Service Centre with tenant Gippsland Employment Skills Training.

The arbiter examined allegations that Cr Gibson stated the briefing paper “contained lies”.

Cr Gibson also used words to the effect that failing to follow a council decision “used to be a sackable offence” – directed at Ms Miller.

“What followed was an unfortunate and very heated seven-and-a-half minutes in the virtual meeting room,” arbiter J Silver said.

The arbiter said that while councillors could hold concerns with staff performance, to suggest the executive officer should terminate particular council staff was “a dangerous proposition”.

They said this could “infringe on the separation of ownership and control” which is a “feature in local government”.

The arbiter said a central consideration was to rehabilitate Cr Gibson without the need to go further, “so she can serve out her term without the need for further arbitration”.

“Her misconduct will be on the public record and become known in the community, and it will have an impact on her,” the arbiter said.

Latrobe City chief executive Steven Piasente said the correct process was followed in strict accordance with the Local Government Act.

“The matter has now been finalised. It is important that all councillors uphold the standard of behaviour defined in the code of conduct,” Mr Piasente said.

Latrobe City mayor Kellie O’Callaghan said that the community had put a lot of trust in council to lead in a “thoughtful, fair, safe and transparent way”.

“I am confident that all councillors will work together effectively into the future and will support councillor Gibson,” Cr O’Callaghan said.

“We would like to assure our community that we are committed to upholding an inclusive and safe culture at all levels of the organisation.”