BULLYING. It’s an emotive word in the modern workplace.
Is it a word sometimes bandied about by underperformers or is it now a workplace problem ignored in years gone by? Do managers see it as a serious issue?
Over the past four weeks The Times has been seeking answers from Frankston Council about bullying allegations between councillors and, in one instance, a councillor and a staff member.
Few answers have been forthcoming.
Does the council have a culture of bullying? We simply do not know because it refuses to answer such questions as confirmation of the number of bullying allegations made at the civic centre in the past two years.
But given The Times’ experience in trying to seek out the truth over the past few weeks it seems some at the council prefer to avoid even dealing with bullying allegations.
Those in the higher echelons at the council prefer silence, evasion, hiding behind legalese and criticising The Times for asking uncomfortable questions.
Bullying allegations between councillors erupted into the public arena at last month’s first council meeting of the year.
In extraordinary scenes, the meeting was adjourned by the mayor Sandra Mayer as councillors shouted accusations about bullying across the room.
The nine councillors then spent time behind closed doors shouting at each other before resuming their seats in the chamber.
When initially asked about bullying allegations between councillors, the mayor claimed there had been no such complaints.
The Times subsequently learned there had been several written complaints about bullying to the mayor and it was “[determined] that there was no basis for a formal official complaint”, in Cr Mayer’s words.
I believe such equivocation does the mayor no credit.
An investigation in 2013 into a WorkCover claim made by a female staff member allegedly bullied by Cr Brian Cunial, has allegedly been “swept under the carpet”, according to council insiders.
The Times tried to speak to Cr Cunial for several weeks about the investigation and its outcome.
He did not respond.
The decision to name Cr Cunial as the alleged bully was not made lightly.
Last Monday evening, after the latest public council meeting, Cr Cunial denied knowledge of any WorkCover investigation when he finally addressed the matter.
Two days later, he issued a statement which read in part: “In 2013, another councillor and I were interviewed by an insurance investigator in relation to a WorkCover claim by a council employee for anxiety and stress.”
I believe such equivocation does Cr Cunial no credit.
Cr Cunial accuses The Times of “choosing to publish ‘hearsay’”. This is not the case.
Rather than explaining his role in the WorkCover claim investigation, Cr Cunial now says he “will seek legal advice on the matter”.
Council has told The Times the identity of the second councillor involved “is confidential”.
Cr Cunial’s statement continues: “It was made clear to me at the time that what was discussed at that interview was confidential and that I was unable to discuss it in any other forum. Therefore, I am unable to respond to media questions, much as I would like to do so.”
Which brings us back to the mayor, Cr Mayer, who has also said: “WorkCover investigations are confidential and I am not permitted to discuss any such matters.”
Last week the mayor said she had “nothing further to add” when asked how many bullying claims had been made by councillors and council staff at Frankston Council in the past few months.
Let’s be clear. The mayor and all councillors at Frankston Council for that matter are publicly elected and, as such, are open to scrutiny insofar as their actions relate to their public duties.
The Times will not allow a lack of transparency at the upper levels of council stop investigations about allegations of bullying at council.
Frankston deserves to know.