Friday 25 March 2011

Attack on Lyons House is "media driven propaganda"

The alcohol rehabilitation centre in Westcourt, Lyons House, that has now been subject to three sensational stories by the Cairns Post, is "media-driven propaganda" and contains "deliberate misinformation" according to the Lyons' management committee.

If you want to hear another side to this story, one without a personal campaign from the Post against Councillor Diane Forsyth: here it is.

I asked the committee that runs Lyons House, formerly the Addiction Help Agency, for their side of the story, something the Post has ignored. Lyons is a residential facility that provides a drug and alcohol free environment for people to make "positive life changes".

The management committee believes the Post coverage, that was largely in reaction of two employees who's employment was terminated, has jeopardised the work of the organisation. Director Margaret Renfrey and John Ellis, who looked after operations, were both asked to leave.

The funding bodies has said they would not continue to financially resource Lyon's House if they "don't fix things up." A committee member told CairnsBlog that the two sacked sacked were not co-operating with the management committee.

"The director [who was sacked] was showing a resistance to mandatory reporting that was not being sent to the funding authorities," the members told CairnsBlog. "The committee kept asking for these, but they were not forthcoming. This was risking our continued funding, and is why we had to bring in an independent investigator. We don't know what she [Director Margaret Renfrey] has not done this."

This is all about taking the focus away from the main issues and discredit certain individuals and ignor the real problems in the management staff. It was why the committee moved this week to remove those two people, so that we could re-structure the agency," the member said. "It's a smokescreen."

The Post reported there was "a vote of no confidence" in the committee, which includes Cairns regional councillor Di Forsyth, who is secretary. Yet only 12 out of 28 staff have voted not to cooperate with the management committee.

"This [media coverage] has jeopardised the normal open and transparent governance of the organisation and the organisation's ability to be able to provide a high level of service to clients," president David Couplan-Jones told CairnsBlog in his first public statement about the affair.

"Today the management committee of Lyons House has asked the Member for Cairns, the Hon Desley Boyle to urgently seek the Government's intervention by requesting an investigation of Lyons House operations," David Couplan-Jones said [pictured right]. "The committee has for sometime had deep concerns about the lack of financial accountability and probity in the operation of Lyons House."

Both Margaret Renfrey and John Ellis who were sacked this week, contacted Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, and said he had lodged a complaint with the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

“I have grave concerns about the evidence presented to me about Lyons House,” Entsch said. “It is only right that Councillor Forsyth stands down from her role as secretary at Lyons House and the Council until this matter is thoroughly investigated.”

However Cairns MP Desley Boyle, who is also a patron of Lyons House, says such "upheaval in community organisations is common.

"Unfortunately it is not uncommon for community organisations such as this to go through organisational upheavals from time to time," Desley Boyle says. "With accusations and counter-accusations by the disaffected and, sadly, sometimes fueled by politicians like [Liberal] Warren Entsch wading in and requesting others to behave as he does not himself."

Boyle says that people should not jump to conclusions.

"Let the proper investigations take place and report back publicly. I applaud the committee's determination to keep services being delivered in the interim. As patron I am aware of the very good work done by this service over the years and the tremendous benefit that clients, often in desperate situations, have received," Boyle said.

The committee is determined to complete their investigations to ensure the ongoing funding of the service. They have said the report will be made public.

The committee, that directs the paid employees, have engaged an independent financial consultant to investigate the irregularities and anomalies that arose from a recent meeting with their three main funding bodies last December. It is clear there appears to be sufficient questions around the management under the two sacked staff, Margaret Renfrey and John Ellis.

"The committee has asked Desley Boyle to contact the Attorney General and request an investigation of Lyons House financial operations and to report to the Government on issues of financial irregularity and mismanagement in respect of the operations of Lyons House," David Couplan-Jones said, in an apparent attack on the two sacked workers that have been given the 'lyon's share' attention from the Post.

"The unprecedented media driven propaganda and deliberate misinformation has jeopardised the normal open and transparent governance of the organisation and the organisations ability to be able to provide a high level of service to clients," David Couplan-Jones said on behalf of the committee. "As an experienced and highly professional voluntary management committee, who work tirelessly for the organisation, in recent times have had to deal with wild allegations made by mischievous and vexatious staff members, putting at risk the organisations credibility."

"In order to safeguard and continue to deliver effective and accessible client-focused assistance and services in a professional and financially accountable manner, we believe it is better for the Justice Department to take control of the investigation," Couplan-Jones said representing the interests of Lyons House management committee.

David Couplan-Jones, who heads the management committee is steadfast that the drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, with a major indigenous component, will continue amid the current attack.

Council have said the Westcourt house was not been approved to be run as a live-in rehabilitation centre because it's graded 'residential 3', yet it is directly opposite the shopping centre and right next door to a series of commercial offices.

Councillor Robert Pyne says they've simply got Warren Entsch to do their dirty work for them.

"If Warren was on Council, he would be in breach of the code of conduct, by saying Forsyth should stand down like this," Pyne said.

"The truth people are doing all sorts of things in private buildings and homes, like running home businesses for which they really should apply to Council, but the truth is that they have busy lives and more often don't think that they need council approval. Of course it never really matters until someone complains, and someone wants to make an issue out of it.

David Couplan-Jones says the committee is taking a new direction of 'client focused funding'.

"However the organisation has needed to make the difficult decision of making two staff positions redundant, with their full entitlements," Couplan-Jones said. "This restructuring will enable the organisation to continue valuable services in providing a holistic service to marginalised and at risk populations in Cairns."

"As a result of a high level of scrutiny, by funding bodies, the committee was directed to take action to reform or programs will be defunded. The committee undertook an extensive review and appointed an independent financial investigator to uncover financial irregularities identified by the funding bodies at a meeting in December," David Couplan-Jones says. "After looking at all the options, the committee decided to take this step of restructuring."

"Although we are an unpaid group of volunteers, the committee has responsibility under the legislation for the organisation, and are committed to moving forward to provide a better future for Lyons House, and developing a five-year strategic plan offering the community of Cairns a highly professional and first-rate service."

David Couplan-Jones told CairnsBlog it is distressing that people have leaked documents about Diane Forsyth, the organisation's secretary, in an attempt to discredit her.

"They are trying to discredit her and her commitment to the organisation," Couplan-Jones says. "The committee would like to state categorically that it supports Ms Forsyth and are fully aware of the issues raised by disgruntled people and firmly believe that these issues have been addressed satisfactorily."

"The mistaken overpayment made to Ms Forsyth for her LSL when she resigned from the organisation in 2008, which she voluntarily offered to repay as soon as learning of the mistake; and a large internet bill, which has now been mutually settled.

Diane Forsyth says the payment was paid back as soon as she was made aware.

"The auditor at that time suggested that I could pay it back as a donation for internal accounting purposes, as the books were already closed," Di Forsyth said. "I have not claimed it on tax, as the receipts show clearly that it is a repayment of LSL overpaid."

A substantial internet bill was also raised by the sacked staff, saying this was chalked up by Councillor Forsyth.

"The majority of the internet bill was waived by Telstra when it was challenged. The committee is well aware of this issue and has now been dealt with," Diane Forsyth said. "I had no knowledge of the large amount of computer usage, over and above the monthly fee, as the alerts for reaching capacity were sent to my mobile phone which was then used by the new director at Lyons House, who at no time contacted me to say she had received any alerts from Telstra that the email usage was over. I rarely used the computer I was not aware there was an issue.”

Forsyth worked at the organisation for 12 years as a director and a psychotherapist, prior to her election as a Cairns Regional Councillor in March 2008.

"I have nothing to hide," Forsyth told CairnsBlog. "I welcome the investigation and have voted to support this.".

David Couplan-Jones says the result of this "smear campaign" will be to muddy the waters in what is the real issue of getting Lyons House back on track.

"All members of the committee have acted in good faith, giving up their own time to begin the restructuring process getting the finances and policies in order, by taking a more hands on approach to reform the agency in line with best practice."

Of course this attack largely focused at Councillor Di Forsyth, pails into insignificance when it comes to the allegations of misconduct levelled at Councillor Sno Bonneau last month, that is now subject to a Crime and Misconduct investigation. Yet where's the front page banner headlines about Sno?


Unknown said...

Funny how Michael Moore has bagged Cairns Post for covering only one side of the story, when they at least took the time to interview both parties (i.e. board members of Lyon's House and the whistle blowing sacked staff members), yet MM only interviewed members of the Labor Party. Gee I know who's reporting has been more objective. Sure it's not a case of Labor pollie, sticking up for Labor pollie!!! Smells a bit fishy to me. If the claims these staff members have made are true, then I agree that a full investigation must take place as we are talking about taxpayers money.

Anonymous said...

I am not in the ALP and I was contacted by Cairnsblog.

As I said to Mike Moore, like many of us, Di Forsyth has faults. However, putting her own personal interests before those of the community is not one of them.

Ask yourself, “Do I think Di Forsyth stood for Council to line her own pocket or advance her personal interests?”

The answer is without doubt … NO!

Whether or not you agree with her ideology, or concept of community good ... that is what drives her!

Cr. Rob Pyne.

Bryan Law said...

Margaret Renfrey and John Ellis have shown themselves willing to use some pretty vicious and destructive behaviour in pursuit of their own agenda. I’m glad they no longer exercise authority in relation to alcohol and drug addicted clients.

They’ve used their position to collect documents and information from the agency that employs them. The day after they’re sacked, the release those documents in a way calculated to damage the agency by attacking its’ committee’s most politically vulnerable member.

So long as Margaret and John were being paid, all these things were alright. If it was all shonkey, why not report it when it happened?

Councillor Di Forsyth is a woman of principle. She got up on the roof of the Cairns Yacht club because she stuck by her principles, and she paid a significant price for it. In all my dealings with her she has never lied to me, or bullshitted me.

Who should I believe, a woman I admire and respect, or a couple of destructive and vengeful ex-employees?

Margaret and John, if you want a new job, go to Queensland Health. I hear they like people like you there.

Shayne of Bungalow said...

interesting how Wazza stench goes on radio 4CA the other day attacking councillor Di about huge problem in a community organisation ......yet does sweet fuck all about all the stolen GOVT money at the community radio 4CCR