Lavelle's former colleagues, the Coffs Harbour City Councillors.
Lavelle's former colleagues, the Coffs Harbour City Councillors. Coffs Harbour City Council

Council member considers legal action over sacking

COFFS Harbour City Council has sacked its second most senior official, two months after he was suspended from his duties with the organisation.

Former assistant general manager Kyme Lavelle, who was also the council's director of corporate business, was suspended on February 20.

A public relations spokesperson for Coffs Harbour City Council released a statement yesterday saying Mr Lavelle was no longer employed by Coffs Harbour City Council following the termination of his contract.

"This was carried out within the terms of his contract," said the spokeswoman.

Coffs Harbour City Council general manager Stephen Sawtell was not available for comment.

Mr Lavelle has worked for Coffs Harbour City Council for 30 years and his four-year contract was renewed in August 2006.

At that time, following a restructure approved by council in July 2006, he took over the city business unit as well as corporate services.

He was also appointed as the council's assistant general manager by Coffs Harbour City Council's general manager Stephen Sawtell, who has now sacked him.

Mr Lavelle referred the Advocate's questions to his solicitor, Vincent Butcher, who said yesterday that council had made a large number of what he categorised as 'very broad' allegations.

"Council suspended Mr Lavelle from duties in February 2008," Mr Butcher said.

"Council thereafter made up to 69 allegations against Mr Lavelle, none of which have been substantiated.

"Mr Lavelle has advised Council on more than one occasion that he will defend each and every allegation.

"Mr Lavelle requested further particulars from Council in relation to those allegations. Council failed to reply to Mr Lavelle's request.

"Mr Lavelle has not received sufficient detail to respond to each and every allegation."

"Council then terminated (the employment of) Mr Lavelle on April 18 and Mr Lavelle is considering his legal options in what can best be described as suspicious and convoluted actions by certain senior staff at Coffs Harbour City Council."

Coffs Harbour City Council general manager Stephen Sawtell could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

Coffs Harbour Mayor Cr Keith Rhoades and general manager Stephen Sawtell held a confidential meeting with Coffs Harbour City councillors last Thursday following the regular council meeting.

Mr Lavelle's employment was terminated the next day.

Cr Rhoades yesterday said the 1993 Local Government Act was very explicit that councillors played no role in the appointment or dismissal of any staff other than the general manager, who in turn had total control of the appointment or dismissal of council employees.

He said Section 337 of the Act clearly stated that on the appointment or dismissal of senior staff members, the general manager should consult with councillors.

Cr Rhoades said the general manager had complied with this by informing councillors on four occasions 'where the situation was up to' which complied with this requirement.

He said he had no further comment on any other matters related to Mr Lavelle's employment or the costs involved.

The Deputy Mayor, Cr Rod McKelvey said councillors had been informed of the process and the decisions made, but had not been told the exact reasons for Mr Lavelle's termination.

Cr McKelvey said he was among a number of councillors who would have liked to have been given more detailed information and background on the matter.

He said having answered several phone calls from people who did not understand it was not councillors' role to dismiss staff at this level, he was 'a little uncomfortable' saying 'no' when asked 'aren't you informed prior to these actions being taken?'

Cr McKelvey said he understood the allegations made were no longer a matter of contention.

The NSW Department of Local Government last month said it had no involvement in the suspension of Mr Lavelle.

A spokeswoman for the Department said it had no role in relation to council staff, who were responsible to the council's general manager, who in turn answered to the councillors.

His departure has surprised many in the community, including some city councillors, who say they have many unanswered questions.

Questions being asked include what exactly the allegations were and what time period was involved; why normal contract dispute resolution procedures have not been invoked; what will be the financial impact on the council's budget and whether there has been adequate consultation.

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