Review finds no case of bullying

An investigation into alleged harassment of a councillor by staff within the Elliston District Council found no evidence that bullying or harassment took place.

The council initiated an independent investigation in February following allegations made by councillor Michael Werchiwski that he had been allegedly bullied by senior council staff.

The complaint was referred to Kaye Smith of EMA Legal who engaged Beth Dunning to conduct the investigation, both of whom serve on the Local Government Association SA governance panel, with the report published last month.

Mr Werchiwski detailed seven instances of alleged harassment, which he said began with accusations that he stole water from a council standpipe in February 2016.

Further allegations stemmed from a visit by two SAPOL officers in November 2016 to search for stolen items which led to Mr Werchiwski being cautioned by the officers for possessing road signs that were council property and a subsequent newspaper report on the incident.

Further instances included council staff entering Mr Werchiwski’s property unannounced and a letter of warning from Elliston Men’s Shed about his behaviour.

Mr Werchiwski had declined to be interviewed by the investigator.

The report said the investigation found no evidence of senior staff bullying or harassing Mr Werchiwski or that any conduct was considered unreasonable.

Mr Werchiwski said he did not have access to council water and signs he possessed were actually salvaged after being dumped.

“In regard to the allegedly stolen water – it is my understanding the council water compound is securely fenced, its standpipe is always locked and I do not have and never had a key to either lock,” he said.

“I note that the amount of water supposedly stolen from that facility in February 2016 was independently recognised as being of low monetary value, that failings had occurred in council procedures and that some new procedures were recommended to be put in place.

“I was cautioned for possessing road signs in December 2016, but what has not been clarified is that these signs had been dumped by the council itself and I had later salvaged them from its waste site, so they were waste items and not signs that had been stolen from the roadside.”

Mr Werchiwski said he was of the belief that some administrative matters had not been done well and he had expressed that viewpoint to the council’s chief executive officer Phil Cameron and principal members via a letter.

“I then followed up with another letter to clarify that I was expressing a personal opinion and had not asked for an expert review to be made on this matter, but the council chose to fund the engagement of a solicitor to undertake a formal review,” he said.

“I feel that our ratepayers would have gained greater value if those particular funds had instead been put into maintenance of public infrastructure.”

A recommendation was made for chairman Kym Callaghan to work with Mr Cameron and Mr Werchiwski to develop protocol for communicating with council staff, which included prohibiting any yelling or raised voices, and to ensure a safe workplace for staff and volunteers.

Mr Callaghan said the council had a duty to investigate such serious allegations.

He said the council had always intended to make the findings public, no matter what the outcome was.

“Allegations of that serious nature have to be investigated,” he said.

Mr Callaghan said he would not tolerate any raised voices or abuse directed at councillors or council staff and he was always available to hear from anyone, including ratepayers, about any serious issues.

Mr Werchiwski said while he had not made a decision on standing for council re-election later this year, “it is my duty to continue and represent what I see to be the best interests of people living within this council area, regardless of who is on the council and no matter what has occurred”.