Local Government Minister Paul Toole has been urged to intervene after a meeting of Liverpool City Council had to be abandoned last night, with several councillors allegedly threatened and intimidated.
Seven councillors walked out after Mayor Ned Mannoun refused to allow the meeting to move to a closed session, without the public present, to debate an urgent motion to remove Chief Executive Officer Carl Wulff over allegations he misled the public about the dumping of asbestos at council sites.
A number of councillors allegedly had threats made towards them by a group of men in the public gallery, who identified themselves as supporters of the Mayor, while a woman who used the public forum to launch an insulting and defamatory tirade against another councillor was allowed to continue.
The United Services Union, which represents local government workers, said the meeting was due to discuss allegations that the CEO had kept councillors, the public, and workers in the dark about asbestos contaminated soil that was placed in more than a dozen local parks by the council.
Council employees — two of whom have since had lung screens confirming the presence of asbestos-related anomalies — were placed at risk by continuing to unknowingly work on the contaminated sites, despite an ongoing investigation by the Environmental Protection Authority.
USU general secretary Graeme Kelly described last night's meeting as nothing short of a farce, with the Mayor's actions a clear breach of the Local Government Act.
"Mayor Ned Mannoun's refusal to allow councillors to debate the future of the CEO, despite the serious allegations that he put the health of workers and the community at risk, was an appalling attack on the most basic elements of local democracy," Mr Kelly said.
"But the situation was made much worse by the presence of a large group of men in the public gallery, who identified themselves as supporters of the Mayor, and who allegedly made threats and intimidatory statements towards a number of elected councillors.
"In the end, the majority of the councillors — including Liberal, Labor and Independents — were forced to walk out of the meeting in frustration."
Mr Kelly said the Mayor had lost any sense of objectivity, and was placing his support for the CEO — who is a close ally — ahead of the proper working of the council.
"At the end of the day, these are serious allegations, and they need to be debated," he said.
"For the Mayor to simply refuse to allow this matter to be discussed, turning the chamber into a kangaroo court, shows complete contempt for the local community.
"There are serious allegations that workers and community members have been exposed to deadly asbestos fibres, and that the CEO failed to reveal the scale and source of that contamination, and they need to be dealt with in an urgent and open manner."