Former Fraser Coast Regional Council CEO Lisa Desmond leaving court.
Former Fraser Coast Regional Council CEO Lisa Desmond leaving court.

Desmond denies being told of council staff on suicide watch

FORMER Fraser Coast council CEO Lisa Desmond has denied receiving reports of suicidal staff and a bullying culture during her time in the top job.

She also told Hervey Bay District Court, where ex-mayor Chris Loft is on trial for misconduct, she does not believe there was "disorganisation" in the office of the CEO before the 2016 council election.

Ms Desmond, who served as CEO from 2011 until being terminated in February 2017, testified on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.

During questioning by crown prosecutor Sam Bain, it was revealed Mr Loft raised creating a position for a "chief of staff" to assist him during a mediation session with Ms Desmond on August 4. This came after an extra staff member had been assigned to help take the pressure off administration duties.

The court heard the mediation session was recommended by the Department of Local Government as a result of a "poor working relationship" between Ms Desmond and Mr Loft.

Ms Desmond acknowledged the relationship wasn't good and described the period as "professionally challenging because of what was going on in council at the time".

She rejected the suggestion by defence barrister Mitch Rawlings her "strange" working relationship with Mr Loft stemmed from his electoral campaign. Ms Desmond said she was aware Mr Loft's election campaign had included criticism of council and her but couldn't remember specifics.

She also denied receiving reports of suicidal staff or a bullying culture within council or knowledge of these issues being raised with Human Resources.

A document was tendered in court which was said to have been given to Ms Desmond "around August 17". This outlined a "chief of staff job description" with a recommended $120,000 salary and council car.

She said she had sent back an amended job description consistent with similar positions in other local councils.

This changed the salary package to $106,400, 12 per cent super contribution on a three-year contract with no registered day off. An email from one of the council directors to Ms Desmond, filling her in about a meeting which allegedly occurred while Ms Desmond was away sick, was also placed on the court record.

In it, Mr Loft had requested changes to the job description and insisted a car was necessary. Council would have to buy a car for the role.

Ms Desmond revealed she went on leave during part of the selection process and when she returned was told the process for employing the candidate Anne Nioa had been stopped and Mr Loft had refused to meet with her.

She said she knew Ms Nioa from her time working at council and declared this conflict of interest during the short-listing process in which Mr loft was not involved.

She said she had a respectful relationship with Ms Nioa but did not regard her a friend and denied she was used as a reference for her current job at Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service.

During cross examination from Mr Rawlings, Ms Desmond said the four-day-a-week administration officer already working for the mayor had expressed concerns she was going to be replaced after she had seen a particular email in Mr Loft's inbox.

The court heard Mr Loft was invited to view the first 15 minutes of presentations by candidates to the interview panel for the second round of applications and he emailed her back saying he should be included in the full interview process. Ms Desmond said the mayor was then given copies of the candidates for his thoughts although the panel was the one who short-listed three applicants.

They met with the mayor and he had short-listed six candidates. Brian Downie was one.

"We discussed his application didn't meet selection criteria," Ms Desmond said.

"During this meeting he (Mr Loft) said he knew him (Mr Downie) and some of his skills, he acknowledged his application was 'probably not the best', then we discussed the other candidates which were also not on the shortlist."

Ms Desmond also explained the council had an email archive system that saved anything sent to and from a council email address.

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