An elected member of Logan City Council in Queensland has been banned from face-to-face contact with council staff following complaints of bullying, harassment and displays of 'uncontrollable anger'.
The issue has reignited the debate over the best approach to managing and preventing workplace bullying within local government.
Councillor Sean Black has been prohibited from meeting with council staff, as recommended in an external complaints officer’s report.
Logan City mayor Pam Parker said Cr Black would continue his representative role, but would have restrictions placed on him within council buildings, including security supervision at council meetings.
“Councillor Black has a sad history of unacceptable behaviour which has attracted both internal and external complaints,” Cr Parker said.
“He has admitted his unacceptable behaviour especially with regard to displays of anger.
“We regret having had to take this action, but, like all responsible businesses and community organisations, we have a zero-tolerance approach to bullying in the workplace.”
Cr Parker confirmed that a worker's compensation claim lodged against Cr Black had been successful.
She said the bans would remain in place until Council’s chief executive officer received “an appropriate medical clearance” for Cr Black.
“We wish Councillor Black well in his efforts to remediate his behaviour and look forward to being able to restore usual councillor arrangements for him,” she said.
Cr Black admitted that he had sworn and yelled at council staff, but denied it was bullying.
“When you need something done in the private sector you ask for it and it occurs,” Cr Black told ABC Radio, adding that he had never had a claim of bullying or harassment filed against him while working in the private sector as a real estate agent.
“I've passionately advocated for my community and that's led to getting some noses out of joint, not least of all the mayor's.
“Obviously this political decision by Council has come about to try and silence someone who's working really hard for their community.”
He has called on the State Government to overhaul the complaints handling process.
Local Government Minister Desley Boyle has indicated that the new Local Government Act will remove the power of councillors to consider complaints against other elected representatives.
ELEANOR HALL: His constituents may like him but his co-workers in the Logan Council, south of Brisbane, are refusing to deal with him.
Councillor Sean Black has been banned from face-to-face contact with council staff, because of his alleged 'uncontrollable anger'.
He can't even attend the chambers without a security escort.
But the exiled councillor can't be sacked, and the unusual situation has locals wondering how he can continue to do his job.
In Brisbane, Nicole Butler reports.
NICOLE BUTLER: He's obviously popular with his constituents in Logan, south of Brisbane.
After all, city Councillor Sean Black had to be elected to his position.
But many of his co-workers aren't fond of him.
In fact, things have become so bad that Councillor Black has been banned from having face-to-face contact with Council staff.
PAM PARKER: Well, he's been using his position to intimidate others, including yelling, screaming, swearing and other displays of uncontrolled anger.
There's been a pattern of behaviour over the past 12 months.
NICOLE BUTLER: Logan Mayor Pam Parker says the decision to effectively exile Councillor Black hasn't been made lightly.
She says there have been several complaints about his behaviour and an investigation has found him guilty of workplace bullying and harassment.
PAM PARKER: He has been apologetic for this. He's been apologetic many times for his behaviour.
Council no longer can tolerate this type of behaviour in the workforce.
We have a duty of care, a legal liability to protect our staff from this sort of behaviour.
NICOLE BUTLER: The Logan Mayor says there's no provision under the Local Government Act in Queensland to sack Councillor Black.
PAM PARKER: But I can tell you now, if he was a member of staff, the CEO said he would not have a job.
NICOLE BUTLER: Sean Black's job is to represent his constituents.
Mayor Parker says special work arrangements have been put in place so he can still do that from exile.
PAM PARKER: Councillor Black will have email provisions provided to him, dictaphones and a courier service going to and from his home to provide pick-ups and drop-offs.
He will able to attend committee meetings, full Council meetings under security supervision.
NICOLE BUTLER: Some commentators have questioned how effectively Councillor Black will be able to perform his duties in this unusual arrangement
Paul Bell is the president of the Local Government Association in Queensland.
He believes things will run smoothly.
PAUL BELL: It's our understanding that this can be made to work.
The Council, and I believe the staff in general, want to see Councillor Black be able to achieve what he's been asked to do by the community, and that's to represent them and represent them well.
And the processes that have been put in place, we believe, will help.
NICOLE BUTLER: The LGAQ supports the Logan Council's actions - particularly as the allegations against Councillor Black have been investigated.
But the man at the centre of the controversy says Mayor Parker's been heavy handed.
SEAN BLACK: At the end of the day, none of these processes were afforded to me natural justice.
None of the allegations have been able to investigate or cross-examine people who make various claims.
Some of the behaviour I'd admit to - I'm a passionate advocate.
NICOLE BUTLER: And the behaviour Councillor Black's admitted to?
SEAN BLACK: Most certainly raising my voice to, and swearing, yes, I'll admit that.
NICOLE BUTLER: Sean Black is a first-term councillor, and he says there he's never had a complaint made against him in the private sector.
Councillor Black says his so-called 'bad behaviour' is borne of frustration with over-abundant red tape and the slow pace of council's bureaucracy.
SEAN BLACK: I've been a continuous advocate, a passionate advocate for these areas.
Obviously that's gotten me into trouble, and it's behaviour that has left me fall foul of the political system.
But it doesn't mean that I won't continue to passionately advocate.
I just have to moderate and change that passion. I think that's an important lesson to be learnt from this.
NICOLE BUTLER: The former real estate agent isn't sure if he'll stand for re-election when the time comes.
ELEANOR HALL: Nicole Butler in Brisbane.