Blue Mountains Council acting general manager stands down over asbestos

A furore over asbestos management at Blue Mountains City Council has led to the acting general manager to stand down from his recently appointed position.

In a statement to the Blue Mountains Gazette, a council spokeswoman said: “Over recent days very serious allegations have been made against the council and against individual council officers in relation to the management of sites affected by asbestos. These allegations are being investigated by the council.”

“I can confirm that, in the light of these allegations, Stuart Liddell, group manager people and systems, has voluntarily and temporarily stood down as acting general manager and from his substantive position as group manager, while the investigations take place.”

Stuart Liddell

Stuart Liddell

As the human resources chief, Mr Liddell is responsible for the health and safety of council workers. As revealed by the Gazette last week, at least 10 council workers have formally lodged grievances against council, through the United Services Union, after concerns about alleged exposure to asbestos at the Lawson council depot site in Park Street.

A meeting was scheduled to take place at midday on Tuesday, November 14 between the United Services Union, the mayor Mark Greenhill and former general manager Robert Greenwood to discuss those grievances. The United Services Union acting general secretary Steve Donley had not been told of Mr Liddell’s temporary departure from the role on Monday when the Gazette contacted him.

Over the weekend, council cancelled planned interviews for the new general manager’s role. A new acting general manager will be appointed on Tuesday night. Council has notified the ICAC [Independent Commission Against Corruption] and the Office of Local Government of their recent actions.

Greens councillor Kerry Brown said that the indefinite suspension of recruitment of a new general manager for council would be destabilising. 

“I am concerned by the mayor’s statements that he is suspending the process indefinitely and that the interviews of applicants scheduled for last weekend (Nov 11-12) were cancelled.  

“Council cannot sit like a rabbit in the headlights. We need to find a fresh pair of hands with a track record of good governance to restore public confidence in our council. 

“It is essential that we have competent and stable leadership as soon as possible. Any decision to delay the recruitment must be by council, not the mayor or [recruitment] panel, and will need sound reasons.”

After the Gazette’s investigations into asbestos concerns at council, radio talkback host Ray Hadley campaigned on the issue on his top rating show on 2GB. Putting more intense media scrutiny on council, Mr Hadley alleged the mayor contacted a senior staffer over the October long weekend to “tone down” asbestos signage in Lawson. He also called the mayor “a grub” and told him to resign.

Mayor Mark Greenhill issued a statement strongly denying the allegation and added there was “no way” he would resign.

"At no time have I ever or would I ever interfere in asbestos management. My personal attitude to asbestos is the extreme opposite. We need to be active and utterly transparent.

“At no time did I ask for signs to be removed. In fact I have never been to the Lawson depot. The allegations are completely false.”

Cr Brown said she would bring an urgency motion for an independent audit by a suitably qualified person.

“It is not in the interests of  public confidence for people with a long association with BMCC to be perceived as directing an inquiry. The auditor should be selected by a tripartite committee of recently elected councillors who are not perceived to be linked with past council actions.”

Cr Brown is also calling for a full report on council’s work health and safety systems to ensure they comply with current legislation adding council’s occupational health and safety policies and procedures dated from 2007 were taken down from its website last week.

“I am advised staff use more current safety systems that comply with the reformed legislation of 2011 but these have not yet been uploaded. Council's WHS systems should be available to contractors and the public, not just workers.

Council’s asbestos management plan was recently approved by SafeWork NSW.

To view the Blue Mountains Gazette’s earlier stories on the issue go to: