Council boss’s sacking plotted in secret group chats
SECRET messages between Logan city councillors discussed sacking their chief executive officer and the door hitting her "hard twice, once in the face and then on the arse on the way out".
Sharon Kelsey is suing the mayor and several councillors over her dismissal, which came three months after she reported allegations of corruption against Mayor Luke Smith to authorities.
"My position is to not extend the probationary period and to make sure the door is two-way and does hit Ms Seuss hard twice, once in the face and then on the arse on the way out," one of the messages exchanged over WhatsApp by the councillors said, a court was told this week.
"No, hold on ... make that twice in the face," it went on.
One councillor in the WhatsApp group, Phil Pidgeon, told a Queensland Industrial Relations Commission trial this week that "Ms Seuss" was a reference to sacked chief executive officer Sharon Kelsey, because she was a fan of US author Dr Seuss.
He denied sending the message, whose author was not made known to the commission.
It was just one of reams of secretive exchanges by select councillors over the WhatsApp mobile phone messaging app in the lead-up to and directly following Ms Kelsey's sacking.
Smith is now suspended and defending charges of corruption and perjury.
He is also being sued by Ms Kelsey over allegations he influenced politically aligned councillors to vote in favour of sacking her in reprisal for her reporting the allegations.
Ms Kelsey's legal action also targets councillors Cherie Dalley, Russell Lutton, Steve Swenson, Laurie Smith, Phil Pidgeon, Trevina Schwarz and Jennie Breene.
The councillors voted to sack Ms Kelsey in a 5-7 vote in February last year. All seven councillors and Smith have denied they were politically aligned or that they sacked Ms Kelsey in reprisal for becoming a whistleblower.
But the commission this week heard evidence that the mayor and all of the councillors named in the action, with the exception of Cr Lutton, were members of closed groups on WhatsApp.
The WhatsApp chat groups were given the names: "Luke 7, Fab 7, Fab 7 2.0 and Team Awesome 2018", the commission was told.
Copies of the messages were handed to Ms Kelsey's lawyers by Cr Dalley after they were retrieved from the Crime and Corruption Commission, which last year seized the councillors' phones as part of its ongoing investigation into Logan City Council.
One of the messages sent by Cr Swenson refers to "evil monsters," while another states: "Amen to that and the god (sic) guys will win (that's us)". Ms Kelsey's barrister, Christopher Murdoch, yesterday seized on the messages in asking Cr Swenson: "So it was the Fab 7 fighting to keep the evil monsters at bay?"
Cr Swenson replied that the "evil monsters" was a reference to rival councillors Darren Power and Lisa Bradley - who he blamed for creating a "toxic environment" - and not Ms Kelsey. He also sent a message to Smith over WhatsApp over Ms Kelsey's allegations, saying: "My heart is breaking for you and (Smith's wife) Andrea mate."
The commission was told on the day councillors voted to sack Ms Kelsey, Cr Swenson - a practising Christian and teetotaller - posted: "I am just sitting here enjoying a long, cold Milo."
"You were rejoicing in a job well done weren't you?" Mr Murdoch asked Cr Swenson.
Cr Swenson rejected he was celebrating.
In another message, Cr Swenson posted a Bible verse for the group: "The wicked conceive evil; they are pregnant with trouble and give birth to lies."
He passed off another reference to Ms Kelsey on the group as "Madam Maniacal" as a "poor attempt at humour" after having read her detailed affidavit.
The commission was also told one of the group's members also warned the others to "keep mouths closed" as anything you say "will be used against you".
Cr Swenson told the commission he removed the app from his phone last year and installed another phone messaging app Telegram at Smith's request shortly after the vote to sack Ms Kelsey.
When asked why he joined Telegram and stopped using WhatsApp, he said: "I don't know."
Cr Pidgeon also confirmed installing Telegram, but denied anyone asked him to use it.
He said he chatted with colleagues on WhatsApp to "relieve stress, and had the same sense of humour".
But he denied it was used by people with common views about rival councillors and Ms Kelsey.
March 2016: Luke Smith voted Mayor of Logan City Council.
April 2016: Logan City Council CEO Chris Rose resigns.
July 2016: Andrew Milner becomes CEO but resigns seven months later under a cloud.
June 2017: Sharon Kesley begins work at Logan as its new CEO.
June 2017: Smith gives evidence at the Crime and Corruption Commission's Operation Belcarra hearings into issues around conflicts of interest at the 2016 election.
October 2017: Ms Kelsey reports allegations about Smith to authorities.
February 2018: Ms Kelsey sacked by 5-7 vote. Smith did not take part in the vote. She takes legal action against the councillors and the Mayor over her termination.
March 2018: Smith charged by the CCC with official corruption and perjury.