IT’S the curious debacle which has now cost Newcastle ratepayers tens of thousands of dollars and shows no sign of ending.
It has been six weeks since Newcastle City Council suspended two senior employees on full pay.
This infuriated some, who have called it ‘‘an absolute disgrace’’, ‘‘yet another farce’’, ‘‘a massive waste of ratepayer money’’ and ‘‘an incredible denial of natural justice’’.
Newcastle Art Gallery director Ron Ramsey and his boss, the council future cities director Judy Jaeger, were suspended on full pay on November20 by the council’s general manager, Ken Gouldthorp.
No reason was given for the suspension, and there is no implication from anyone that the pair has done anything wrong.
Mr Gouldthorp is holidaying in Queensland, and the council’s public relations team was maintaining its line yesterday that it would not comment on ‘‘staffing issues’’.
But the Newcastle Herald can confirm the suspensions were extended because of the holiday season, and Mr Ramsey and Ms Jaeger were only interviewed by the council’s external investigator several days before Christmas, four weeks after they were initially stood down.
Given that they have been on full pay for six weeks, their roles have been back-filled and the council has hired a consultant investigator, the cost of the exercise so far has been conservatively put at more than $30,000.
‘‘It’s an absolute disgrace,’’ Cr Tim Crakanthorp said.
‘‘I say that for three reasons. Firstly, their [Ramsey and Jaeger] reputations are being badly damaged, regardless of whether or not they did anything wrong; secondly, because the suspensions and replacements are costing us a lot of money; and thirdly because I wouldn’t be surprised if there were legal ramifications down the track which may cost the council even more.’’
Robert Henderson, chairman of the art gallery foundation, was equally critical.
‘‘It’s an incredible denial of natural justice,’’ he said.
‘‘What’s more disgusting is that mud sticks. No one knows why they have been stood down – they’ve been gagged and essentially put under house arrest because, while they’re suspended [on full pay], they can’t go anywhere in case they get called into work or into a meeting with the investigator.
‘‘I will never understand why the suspensions came before the investigation. Shouldn’t it happen the other way around?’’
Lord mayor Jeff McCloy said that though he agreed the investigation ‘‘had gone on too long’’, councillors ‘‘shouldn’t involve themselves’’ in the matter.
It was a ‘‘staff issue’’, which would be resolved by the current investigation, he said.
The council would not comment further or provide any indication of when the investigation might conclude.
Mr Ramsay and Ms Jaeger have been ordered by Mr Gouldthorp to make no public comment.
Judy Jaeger and Ron Ramsey