Thursday 22 March 2018

Staff threaten to boycott local authority meetings over councillor's 'bullying'

Declan Bree: accused of belittling council officialsGreg Harkin

COUNCIL staff have threatened to boycott meetings attended by a councillor accused of bullying.

Sligo Borough Council has spent more than €50,000 employing an HR consultant to monitor meetings after an internal investigation found Independent councillor Declan Bree had bullied staff.

Consultant Declan Naughton, who has travelled from Wicklow to attend meetings of the local authority for the past three years, reports back if health and safety rules are breached.

Staff walked out of the latest meeting, accusing Mr Bree of bullying.

The row erupted after director of services Paula Gallagher read a report to councillors from her laptop, apologising for not having a printed copy as she had been ill.

When Mr Bree criticised her for not providing a written report or a report via email, county manager Hubert Kearns accused him of bullying and left the meeting with Ms Gallagher and other officials.

In a statement last night, Sligo Borough Council said staff would no longer attend meetings at which Mr Bree was present, effectively suspending business.

The statement said: "Arising from an incident of inappropriate behaviour by . . . Mr Bree at the Sligo Borough Council meeting of March 4, 2013, affecting a member of staff's right to dignity at work, staff withdrew from the meeting.


"The staff present have now written to the county manager advising that they will not attend any meetings at which Mr Bree is present until the issue is resolved.

"Meetings are already significantly impacted by the withdrawal of numerous other officials arising from previous bullying and inappropriate behaviour involving Mr Bree."

A council spokesman said: "Staff were extremely distressed by what occurred at Monday night's meeting and are considering taking legal advice."

Mr Bree defended his questioning of council executives, saying: "I did not raise my voice. All I did was ask why a report was not available when it could have been sent by email."

However, he did admit challenging Mr Kearns at a county council meeting on the same day. It followed a request from the county manager to increase the council's overdraft from €4m to €8.5m.

Mr Bree told the meeting: "Where else but in Sligo would we witness such a scenario? It's typical of the fantasy world the county manager lives in. It's unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented."

Mr Kearns reacted angrily to the exchange with Ms Gallagher, saying he had "had enough" and leaving.

Mr Naughton's reports have shown that most meetings in the past year have been conducted "with respect and dignity".

Irish Independent

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