Thursday, February 29, 2024

Northern Midlands councillor suspended

Northern Midlands Councillor, Andrew McCullagh, has been suspended for 21 days by the independent Local Government Code of Conduct Panel for seeking to use his office to gain an improper benefit and for bullying and harassment.

The independent Code of Conduct Panel’s determination follows a complaint lodged by the Director of Local Government, Mathew Healey, against Cr McCullagh.

Welcoming the Panel’s determination, Northern Midlands Mayor, Mary Knowles said it vindicated actions taken by Council over the past year in response to Cr McCullagh’s harassment and bullying of herself, the general manager and other councillors and officers.

“The Panel’s determination also addressed the issue of wild, offensive and unsubstantiated allegations made against councillors and staff, particularly the General Manager Des Jennings,” Mayor Knowles said.

In a statement, the Council said the Panel’s determination found that evidence was produced that ‘demonstrated Cr McCullagh sought to take advantage of his office as a councillor to improperly influence Cr Knowles, Mr Jennings and his fellow councillors in order to gain an improper benefit for himself, ie: the “dropping” of legal action against him as initiated by the Council and also by Cr Knowles and Mr Jennings. He did this in his role as a councillor by threatening certain outcomes, the Council said.

The Panel also concluded that Cr McCullagh had treated Mr Healey, Cr Knowles and Mr Jennings unfairly.

“This conclusion was reached having regard to the tone of much of his communication with these people including wild allegations that he was not able to substantiate and demonstration of a lack of respect for the positions they held, as evident from the various attachments to Mr Healey’s complaint,” the Panel wrote in its final report.

The Panel concluded that the nature of Cr McCullagh’s emails prior to the lodgement of the complaint, for the most part, were not only offensive to Cr Knowles and Mr Jennings but to Mr Healey as well. The Panel determined that apart from being unsubstantiated, they were aggressive, degrading, threatening and intimidating.

“Therefore, the Panel determined that the nature of the constant belligerent emails Cr McCullagh sent to Mr Healey and Mr Jennings formed a pattern of harassment. Mr Jennings also told the hearing that he felt harassed by Cr McCullagh. His constant demands of both Mr Healey and Mr Jennings for responses to his requests for information were unreasonable and unabating, showing a lack of understanding of their respective roles,” the Panel said.

“It is the Panel’s view that the constant barrage of emails from Cr McCullagh to Mr Jennings containing derogatory comments and unending criticism of him, amounted to a form of bullying and went beyond mere harassment.

The Panel also considered whether requiring Cr McCullagh to attend counselling or a training course would be an effective sanction and decided that it would not, saying “the evidence amply demonstrated that he was not in a state of mind to be receptive to appropriate counselling or training”.

“In the Panel’s view the only effective and meaningful sanction in all the circumstances of this case is to impose a short period of suspension… While this was not a usual course to
take in the case of a ‘first offence’, in the Panel’s view it is necessary to not only deter Cr McCullagh from repeating the relevant conduct but to mark the seriousness of the relevant breaches of the Code of Conduct.

“Accordingly, the Panel suspends Cr McCullagh from performing and exercising the functions and powers of his office as a councillor of the Northern Midlands Council for a period of twenty-one days (21) days effective immediately,” the report concluded.

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