Last month I covered the biased Post coverage when Councillor Forsyth was targeted in an unrelenting campaign and labelled as the base of the organisation's woes, after two senior employees were sacked by the Lyon's board following serious claims of mis-management, in an effort to keep the service alive.
"Enough is enough, we have been working are arses off to save Lyons," David Couplan-Jones, president of Lyons House told CairnsBlog.
In a story in yesterday's paper, Post editor-at-large Gavin King says that the Department of Communities has raised "serious concerns about financial irregularities" at Lyons House, including the purchase of the Westcourt house on Lyons Street where the service operates from.
The Post says that the property purchase was "under the direction of Cairns Councillor Di Forsyth."
However president of the Lyons House management board, David Couplan-Jones, says the Cairns Post has repeatedly ignored information supplied to them and allowed gaping holes in the full story to be told.
The property on Lyons Street, across the road from the Westcourt shopping centre, was purchased in 2007 and was a decision of the full management committee, not solely by Diane Forsyth who was a director of the Agency at the time. The then president of the management committee was John Ellis. Ellis was subsequently employed in June 2009 in a role created for him by the new director Margaret Renfrey.
"Renfrey awarded herself a massive $125,000 annual salary package, without the knowledge or approval of the management committee, except for Bernard O’Connor who was a committee member and Ellis' partner," David Couplan-Jones says. "John Ellis was the only applicant for a position that attracted a $95,000 package. Ellis nominated his partner Bernard O’Connor as president, even though this was obviously a conflict of interest."
Couplan-Jones has confirmed to CairnsBlog that previous policy and practice at the organisation disallowed partners or relatives of staff, to become members of the management committee. O’Connor and Renfrey argued that it was not a conflict of interest and O’Connor became President.
Couplan-Jones says that O’Connor, who worked with Mrs Renfrey's husband at the Cairns Naval Base, subsequently authorised a large salary raise for Mrs Renfrey under his signature as president of Lyons House management committee, without the knowledge of any committee members.
"It was only after a special general meeting was called to reinstate the policy that partners of staff are not eligible to stand for the committee and have it included in the constitution, that Mr O’Connor was forced to stand down," David Couplan-Jones says.
As part of the organisation's restructure, which was "well overdue", two positions in the agency were made redundant in March 2011: the position of director held by Margaret Renfrey, and operations manager, John Ellis.
"Since these two positions were made redundant, there has been a campaign to discredit the Agency without consideration to the effects on clients or the morale of our staff," David Couplan-Jones says. "Funding Bodies have stated that they are pleased that clients' services have been uninterrupted throughout this process and have congratulated the committee on steps taken."
Couplan-Jones says that the main majority of Lyons House staff fully support the recent action taken. 29 are employed at the service, consisting of qualified mental health workers.
For the last 12 months the wage cost has been more than income, and they [Renfrey and Ellis] nothing about it. They didn't even tell the management committee," Couplan-Jones says. "It was horrifically mis-managed. We found letters to the funding bodies hidden at the back of the filing cabinet that were never passed on to us. It is really terrible, shocking."
"This [Post coverage] is a blatant attack on Dianne Forsyth. If we hadn't taken the action in the last month to sack those two senior staff, Lyons House would be insolvent now," Couplan-Jones says. "They [Renfrey and Ellis] were giving each other rises and signing off on each others pay. They did this without our knowledge. I've been asking for months for this to be reported to the committee when I took over as president, and they simply refused to give this information to us. This is why we had to stand them down."
Couplan-Jones says staff mis-management could easily become a matter for the Police.
"As one example, they got a grant for $20,000 to upgrade the computers, and $13,000 was given to the administrator's partner and the remaining $7,000 to her son to do the website which cost less than $2,000. There were no receipts or anything. I've told Gavin King at the Cairns Post, but he's chosen to ignore all this."
Supporters of Lyons House, formerly called the Addiction Help Agency, have lashed out at the "narrow one-sided story" that has been published.
"The wonderful and dedicated work that Diane Forsyth did over many years to build and maintain the Agency into one of the most successful drug and alcohol treatment services in the Far North, is being ignored," David Couplan-Jones said, who also sits on six community committees. "Beginning with a funding of only $170,000 and building it to more than $2m, Diane created the only therapeutic community in Cairns, with a brilliant reputation for achieving positive results for people with drug and alcohol problems."
"I am, therefore, not prepared to sit idly by and watch the Cairns Post and LNP's heavy attempt to besmirch the good name and reputation of Diane Forsyth who worked her guts out as a therapist and manager of the Addiction Help Agency for over 12 years," Couplan-Jones told CairnsBlog.
In March when both Margaret Renfrey and John Ellis were sacked, they contacted Federal Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, who 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.”
His comments are in contrast to his, and predecessor Jim Turnour, who failed to comment or intervene in the debacle at Cairns Community Radio, that has seen around $140,000 of public funding been unaccounted for in the last 12 months alone.
"I will not let the people who have brought the agency to it's knees in recent times, off the hook," David Couplan-Jones says.
The Cairns Post says an unfair dismissal claim has been filed by sacked staff Margaret Renfrey.
Couplan-Jones says that the "damaged financial position" is due to financial mis-management and misappropriation of funds by the previous staff.
"Reports have shown that this has been caused by a complete lack account management principals and the hiding of information. Financial letters to the management committee from the funding bodies have have been found hidden at the back of a draw in the office," David Couplan-Jones says.
He also says that the two key senior staff failed to attend any meeting called by the committee to discuss the matters.
"The director and operations manager had to be made redundant so we could bring in an action team to try and save Lyons House. We have commissioned an independent financial and operational investigation."
A transition team has been appointed that includes Richard Bowler as interim CEO; Julie Simon-Abbott as accountant; Dr Jane Harte; and Hugh Bowers, a barrister and solicitor.