Investigation launched into bullying accusations at Glen Eira Council

May 27, 2016 6:11pm

A CULTURE of bullying and intimidation among Glen Eira councillors is under investigation by eminent barrister Frances O’Brien QC, an insider alleges.

Ms O’Brien, whose report led to the sacking of Geelong Council in April, has been appointed by mayor Neil Pilling, as rumblings between councillors increasingly spill into the public domain.

Her appointment as an independent arbiter follows a tumultuous four-year term at Glen Eira, which came to a head at a citizenship ceremony in March.

The sordid history of infighting among councillors saw the council sacked in 2005.

The Herald Sun understands all councillors have met with Ms O’Brien at the Glen Eira town hall as she seeks to unravel the increasingly “toxic” culture.

A number of councillors have confirmed they are to be interviewed by Ms O’Brien.

Some of the incidents which may come under investigation include:— Cr Jamie Hyams calling Cr Oscar Lobo a “f**kwit” at a ceremony attended by 200 people at the Glen Eira town hall.

— Cr Oscar Lobo’s allegedly anti-Semitic slur at a December council meeting.

— A 2010 email councillor Michael Lipshutz sent to Cr Lobo asking him if he had worked for a bank linked to terrorists.

Cr Hyams has confirmed he called Cr Lobo a “f**kwit” at the ceremony.

He refused to go into details about the incident, but said the insult was levelled at Cr Lobo after he was “severely provoked”.

It is believed Cr Lobo and Cr Hyams were almost involved in a physical altercation at the citizenship ceremony when the argument spilt into the town hall foyer.

Cr Hyams apologised to his colleagues for the outburst in a late-night email following the incident.

Councillors unanimously voted to censure Cr Lobo earlier this year for the allegedly anti-semitic slur.

“Ever since Cr Lobo made his disgustingly racist comments in the council meeting of December 15 he has treated myself and other councillors with complete contempt,” Cr Hyams said.

Cr Lobo has claimed to be the subject of bullying and racism for seven years.

“The council is trying to find out what these internal issues are and it has been given to an independent person to judge the gravity of the situation,” Cr Lobo said.

Cr Lobo denied he provoked Cr Hyams at the citizenship ceremony.

“He got up and said you’re a f**kwit and that’s when I lost my cool after that because he has done all these insults in the past and no one knows about it.”

“He wanted to provoke me to hit him because that’s an easy way to get rid of me.”

Cr Lobo called for Cr Hyams to resign in light of his behaviour.

The incident follows a failed bid by councillors to reprimand Cr Lobo in 2013 at a conduct panel, which cost ratepayers $27,000.

Ms O’Brien will prepare a report following her meetings with councillors, which may be referred to the ombudsman or Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

Glen Eira mayor Neil Pilling confirmed Ms O’Brien had been “engaged” to provide advice on councillor conduct.

“As the confidential matter is currently in progress and subject to legal privilege, we are unable to make further comment at this time,” he said.

Ms O’Brien would not comment on the investigation when contacted by the Herald Sun.