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WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AT THE QVMAG

 

synopsis of the scandal

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Much has been said and written about the scandal at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, which is owned and operated by the Launceston City Council. I was very publicly accused of bullying and harassment, and my supervisor, Mr Patrick Filmer-Sankey, was sacked for not having stopped me.

Since July 2010 when the story broke, I have remained largely silent, partly out of obligation as an employee hoping to be reinstated, partly out of fear of retribution, and partly out of inability through paralytic depression.

For the first time, this is my side of the story. It is my hope that by presenting the story through the original documents and own words of those involved, that the public and ratepayers of Launceston can make up their own minds of What Really Happened at the QVMAG.

In a nutshell:

  • I was hired as an agent of change, as Curator and Head of Natural Sciences, into a department that had been dysfunctional and unproductive for more than a decade.
  • The previous four supervisors had been the subject of, and removed under, vehement complaint by the same four long-term part-time staff.
  • Fuelled by Aldermen with an axe to grind, and acting in righteous indignation over my Asperger's Syndrome behaviours, my staff rebelled and work came to a stand-still.
  • After a year of internal and external mediations, union involvement, and two resignations, an investigation was conducted to bring the facts out on the table.
  • During the Investigation, a new General Manager, Mr Robert Dobrzynski, was hired. Without familiarising himself with the situation, he charged me with 13 counts of bullying and harassment, sacked the Director, refused us access to the "evidence" being used against us, and then, after refusing to pay me for 16 weeks, sacked me.

This is a story of self-interested politics, discrimination, vendettas, and secrecy.

 

I have remained silent through the controversy about whether I bullied and harassed my staff... up 'til now. I stood by helplessly as the Launceston City Council racked me up on false charges, refused to pay me for 16 weeks, denied me access to my personal belongings in my office, forbid me from contacting colleagues and setting foot on Council property, and denied me access to the basis and substance of the charges against me. I stood by in horror as my supervisor was sacked because of me.

    1. My reasons for remaining silent were two-fold:
      • I wanted to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, and
      • more than anything, I just wanted to get back to work and do my science.

Also, suffering from paralytic depression as the result of these actions against me, I spent weeks at a time unable to get out of bed, so I was hardly in a good position to stand up and fight.

Late in the afternoon before Christmas Eve, that all changed. For two reasons:

  • I gained access to hundreds of pages of documents written by my staff, complaining about me in the most trivial of ways, that can best be described as Mills & Boon with an axe to grind (See my pages on Petty Gripes and Complaint Documents)
  • I was sacked. Not on the basis of any of the allegations. Not for having done anything wrong. Simply because, in the words of Mr Dobrzynski, "the employment relationship has irretrievably broken down". However, even after the charges had collapsed, Mr Dobrzynski still insisted I was a bully (See my termination letter).

So now, finally, here is my story. I ask you not to "just take my word for it". This whole scandal has festered under the shroud of secrecy, on the bet that no one will ever see the evidence. So please, as you read through these pages, ask youself every step of the way, "what is the evidence?" Don't take my word for it, don't take Dobrzynski's word for it, don't take the Mayor's word for it. Demand to see the evidence, and make up your own mind. And if you find it dispicable, please take action and pass the word.

 


The Core Issues

Imagine if you will, being attacked and vilified not because you have done anything wrong, but because of your accent and a neurological disability that you were born with. Imagine being so completely purged, that you are driven to destitution, losing your career, your home, and your means of paying for medication. Imagine how dehumanising it is to run out of toilet paper and face the fact that you have no money to buy more.

Six months ago, I was at the top of my career, a success in my chosen field, well published, an internationally reknowned Dr of Marine Biology, jellyfish expert, and media resource. And now, I am in poor health, homeless, and disheartened. I ask not for your pity, I ask for your respect... respect for my supervisor, Mr Patrick Filmer-Sankey, who stood up for my civil rights and got sacked for it; respect for the current Director, Mr Richard Mulvaney, whom I have never met, but has walked into a war-zone; and respect for the next Curator, who will simply be number six in the list of supervisors that need to be gotten rid of by Natural Sciences staff who refuse to be supervised. And I ask you to fight for the QVMAG.

What happened is not a simple story. It is a highly complex web of numerous fronts of attack operating in self-interest, the very essence of discrimination, public deceit, fraudulent acts, and repeated acts of blatant disregard for the law.

I have been told by many people over the months since this started, that there are laws in place to prevent these sorts of things from happening, and that an employer "can't just do that". Well, I hope that in reading these pages and examining the evidence, that you will come to see that yes, they "can" just do that, and indeed they did, and that the laws only work when they are enforced, and that takes time, costs money, and rarely brings actual justice. It's not like it is in the movies!

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HISTORY OF DYSFUNCTION: The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery had a long and distinguished history of punching above its weight, but in recent years had fallen into doldrums through stale exhibitions, burned out staff, lack of direction, and low productivity. Council-enforced redundancies in 2007 had left the surviving staff shell-shocked and, in their views, overworked and exploited. The Natural Sciences was particularly affected by these toxicities, along with intense infighting, struggles for power, and treating the department as a personal fiefdom. I was brought into the position of Head of Science at the QVMAG as an agent of change.

THREATENING, or REFORMER?: I brought with me a vigorous and highly productive research program, international experience, and a whole lot of energy. My research specialty, jellyfish, has been good to me: coming into the QVMAG, I had a half million dollars in competitive research funding, fifty technical publications, over 160 new species discovered, and a weekly science show on the radio. The downside to all this is that I was younger than my staff, had a better education, I was a foreigner, and I was their boss. (Read more about my science).

RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION: I met fierce resistance -- not everyday workplace apathy or distrust of supervision -- I'm talking full blown, 'biblical proportion' resistance. When I would ask for something to be done, I would either be completely ignored, utterly misled, or stared down and told 'no' over crossed arms. I was repeatedly challenged by my staff that things I asked for "would have to be checked on" or were "going to have to be documented". I was fiercely excluded from accessing the specimen databases, the departmental files, and anything where I might come to learn what was going on. I was repeatedly told that we didn't have certain specimens or files or resources, only to find out later that we did. All the while, I was subjected to a blizzard of petty and ridiculous complaints that never made it into writing until a year later. (Read more about my staff).

ILLEGAL ALDERMANIC INVOLVEMENT: My Director (Mr Patrick Filmer-Sankey) and Human Resources made patient and valiant efforts to try to get my staff to come into line with the new Museum direction. We had weekly meetings, internal and external mediations, regular safety meetings, pro-active plans for teaching me their ways of doing things, etc etc -- all failed. My staff simply didn't want a bar of it. Unbeknownst to me at the time, a previous employee and friend of my staff, Mr Ian Norton, had become an Alderman and was meeting with my staff and apparently fanning the flames of discontent. It is against the law for Aldermen to involve themselves in operational matters. But oh, involved they were. And where was the Mayor in all this? (Read more about the Aldermen).

BLOOD-THIRSTY UNION: During the intense events of mid to late 2009, the Australian Services Union became involved. Many bad things happened as a result of actions of the ASU, for which ultimately, the ASU officer was sacked. He demanded my dismissal, without ever bothering to ask for my side of the story. He made very specific allegations against me to my Director and to HR, that were simply untrue and proven to be so. And he ignored the fact that I too was a Union member and entitled to representation.

THE SAGE INVESTIGATION: By the end of 2009, two of my staff had left (one resigned, and the other retired but back as a casual). The remaining two refused to continue the mediations, and refused to engage in meaningful work. The core issue was that they insisted that I was bullying them, that I was rude, I was "too American", that I didn't belong here, and they refused to work with me. But they also refused to make any sort of formal complaint that could be actioned, investigated or answered to. On the brink of having to sack the two remaining staff members, HR came up with the idea to launch an investigation into whether I had bullied my staff. The idea was to give them an opportunity to "put up or shut up". I warmly embraced this as a means of moving forward and getting back to work. Along the way, things went terribly wrong. What was meant to be an investigation into departmental dynamics, morphed into a witch hunt against me, where past colleagues and overseas informants were ferreted out for comment, but other managers dealing with my staff, as well as others working for me, were not interviewed at all. (Read more about the Sage Investigation and Report).

ROBERT DOBRZYNSKI: Shoot First and Ask Questions Later: In May 2010, Robert Dobrzynski took up the role as the new General Manager of the Launceston City Council. I don't know exactly who or what influenced him to react so vindictively against me and my Director without just cause -- a whole swag of rumours exist about Dobrzynski and Alderman Norton on yachting trips, being censured for wrong-doing at his previous Council, and early allegations of wrong-doing with other Launceston personnel and stakeholders, but it's hard to know what is true and what is false (but I would be interested in gathering evidence, if anyone has it). (Read more about Mr Dobrzynski).

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