Misconduct settlement close to agreement

Councillor Helen Leach
Councillor Helen Leach

A SETTLEMENT over a City of Greater Bendigo misconduct finding is close to being finalised, says councillor Helen Leach. 

An independent state government Code of Conduct Panel delivered a finding of misconduct against Cr Lisa Ruffell earlier this year over her handling of a complaint against councillors Leach and Elise Chapman.

Disability organisation Amicus alleged the two councillors acted inappropriately towards one of their clients. 

It was found that Cr Ruffell did not give the councillors an opportunity to respond, however Cr Ruffell appealed the finding. 

It was later agreed the misconduct finding would be dropped if Cr Ruffell made an official apology to her fellow councillors. 

A Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing was held at noon today in relation to the matter, but details are yet to be released. 

Cr Leach told the Bendigo Advertiser she had received a copy of Cr Ruffell's apology at 10.30am today, however she had sent it back for review. 

"It wasn't signed so I have asked for it to be fixed up," she said. 

"Elise and I have agreed to drop the misconduct charge if we get a decent apology but it could take a while to rectify that."

Cr Leach said Cr Ruffell was shouldering the blame, saying many other senior council officials should also apologise. 

"I think it's a bit unfair for Lisa to do all the apologising when other people were involved in the complaint handling too," she said. 

She said it would not hinder future decision making in council chambers. 

"If I agree with Cr Ruffell, I will support her motions," she said. 

Crs Chapman and Leach were questioned why they allegedly tried to coax a woman with disabilities from a dance floor during a community celebration in Hargreaves Mall in April. 

Amicus formally raised concerns with council over the incident. 

Cr Leach said they had been "grossly, grossly treated" by the disability organisation. 

Cr Chapman said the matter had been a most unfortunate episode in the history of the Bendigo council.

"Cr Helen Leach and myself were subjected to a grave injustice in that we were accused of something we did not do and were denied natural justice by both the Mayor of the day, Cr Lisa Ruffell, and the council’s chief executive Craig Niemann," she said. 

"In order to clear our names we had to resort to having the matter dealt with by a Councillor Conduct Panel.

"The panel’s findings were not accepted by Cr Ruffell.

"All I ever asked for was an apology. It is most unfortunate that what should have been a simple courtesy has had to be forced by direction of VCAT. 

"In dealing with the matter before VCAT I allowed the finding of misconduct against Cr Ruffell to be withdrawn.

"My nature is to forgive and I felt that this was appropriate to enable the whole issue to be finalised."

Cr Ruffell has been contacted for comment. 


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