Pledging to fight on: North Sydney Mayor Jilly Gibson. Pic: Facebook.
North Sydney Mayor Jilly Gibson has vowed to contest the mayoralty again in the next local government elections, despite toxic relationships between her and four other councillors.
Relationships between the Mayor and other councillors and between the Mayor and the former General Manager Warwick Winn had become so fraught that former NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole ordered a public inquiry in January 2016 in an attempt to stop the squabbles.
Tom Howard SC, who conducted the inquiry for the Office of Local Government (OLG), uncovered “a degree of conflict and personal antipathy” among councillors which he said had led to some “poor decisions” but he refrained from suspending or dismissing the council, instead issuing an improvement performance order (IPO).
NSW Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upon lambasted the three councils named in the report, which also included Auburn and Murray River, for their ‘petty rivalries, childish behaviour and self-interest’.
While the atmosphere over at North Sydney Council chambers had lifted somewhat after the departure of Mr Winn in April 2016, tensions among councillors were still in evidence at this week’s council meeting when four councillors – councillors Jeff Morris, Zoe Baker, Melissa Clare and Maryanne Beregi – walked out while the Mayor was speaking about the Office of Local Government report, saying that it had vindicated her.
“The relentless actions of my protagonists has gone way beyond politics. It’s gone against civility and on many occasions I felt dehumanised,” Ms Gibson told the meeting.
She told Government News that she was “extremely disappointed that some councillors were disrespectful and walked out of the meeting when I was speaking”.
But despite labelling the inquiry process “exhausting and harrowing” and saying she had been bullied by other councillors for a long time the Mayor came out swinging, saying she was “enormously resilient” and would stand for the mayoralty at the council elections, likely to be on September 9.
She said her poor treatment by other councillors did not match the reception she got in the community and this is where she spent most of her time.
“I have been treated with great disrespect within these four walls but out in the community I am treated with kindness, affection and respect,” Ms Gibson said.
Resignation had never been on the cards.
“I’ve stayed strong. You can’t give in to workplace bullying. It just encourages them. I made a four-year commitment to the North Sydney community.
“I work incredibly hard for this community: I’m the only one that ever turns up a public and community events and citizenship ceremonies. I’m very resilient and I love my job.”
Asked if the relationship breakdown hindered the workings of council she said: “We get the business of council done very well. It’s just unfortunate that I have to do my job [coping] with hostility and rudeness.”
Councillor Melissa Clare did not welcome the Mayor’s resolution to seek another term as Mayor.
“It is increasingly impossible to work with the mayor as she believes that she is the dictator rather than a elected official who has to work with others,” Ms Clare said. “She is bullying, erratic and irrational. We continue to try to work with her – or else work around her- so as to ensure that the business of council is conducted in the most orderly and efficient manner for our residents (despite her attempt to create chaos and drama through misinformation and outright lies).”
Ms Clare denied that the OLG report had backed Ms Gibson.
“It did not vindicate her as much as point out that she is incapable of carrying out her role and that is evidenced by her inability to chair meetings despite 17 years on council and numerous (repeated) training sessions.”
Ms Gibson had planned to stand as an independent candidate for North Shore in the state by-election on April 8, the seat recently vacated by Liberal stalwart and former NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, but she withdrew her nomination on Thursday.
There are at least three other independents standing: Royal North Shore surgeon Dr Stephen Ruff, local campaigner Ian Mutton and Mosman Councillor Carolyn Corrigan.
“If the independents work together and do preference deals one of them has a good chance of winning,” Ms Gibson said. “If the aim is to keep the Liberals out then it’s sensible to preference.”
But she said it was doubtful that this would happen, “so far there have been refusals to do any preference deals” and added that an independent candidate could not possibly win alone.
“I think those discussions are done and dusted.”
Independents will square up against Felicity Wilson, who is the Liberal Party’s North Shore candidate.
North Sydney councillor Jeff Morris has been contacted for comment.
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