Text scandal leads to accusations of toxic workplace Nedland municipality

A Nedlands councilor has claimed the borough is a “toxic” workplace as explosive text messages reveal the mayor’s attempts to convince councilors of a planning decision, despite declaring a conflict of interest.

As the owner of the adjacent property on Kinninmont Avenue, Mayor Fiona Argyle had declared a proximity interest and withdrew from council chambers. Still, during the meeting, she texted Councilman Olinka Combes.

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The November 21 meeting was adjourned, and Ms. Argyle left the building, but her texts remained mysterious.

Camera icon Nedlands Mayor Fiona Argyle. Credit: Andrew Ritchie/Perth Now

It can now be revealed that, despite her declared conflict of interest, Mayor Cr Combes texted: “I can’t believe you spoke to my family on this subject. Horrible.”

toxic workplace

Cr Combes showed the CEO the message, and as she did so, a second message read, “fantasy to use our green hedge. A,ngus my husband, has fallen from grace and heard it all online from Singapore”.

The councilor had spoken out in favor of the proposed two-story house, suggesting existing hedges offered privacy.

When PerthNow asked Cr Combes about the lyrics, she said they were “obviously sent to bully and intimidate me”.

Cr Combes said there had been a “pattern of behavior” in the six months following the November meeting.

Camera icon Nedlands councilor Olinka Combes Credit: Included

She said that in her 20 years of working in corporate roles, she had never experienced the level of bullying that happens in the Nedlands Council.

Cr Combes said the council “as a workplace” was “toxic and unsustainable”.

The councilor was one of only three councilors to vote for the proposed two-story house in November, with the application being rejected 9-3 at the November meeting.

Landgate’s records show that Annabelle and Stephen Purser purchased the subdivided lot next to the mayor’s house for $780,000 in October 2021.

Camera icon A proposal for this block has been submitted to the SAT after the Nedlands Council rejected the application twice. Credit: Jake Dietsch/PerthNow

The Pursers presented their case to the State Administrative Tribunal, which ordered them to negotiate with the city of Nedlands.

After changing plans, the city recommended that the proposal be approved, but in March, the council voted against the application again.

The case is back before the SAT, and Ms. Argyle requested to intervene as an interested third party, with the next hearing date set for June 1.

Mrs. Purser said there was one set of rules for her and her husband and one for everyone else.

“We knew the mayor was the neighbor, but we were told she would have no part in the vote,” she said. “But then she texts people during the vote.

“We are very frustrated. We feel the mayor has used her power beyond what is appropriate.”

Camera icon A propped-up house on Kinninmont Avenue next to the mayor of Nedlands has proved controversial. Credit: Included

Ms. Purser said she wanted an independent person to investigate the mayor’s behavior and said it was not right for the city to handle the matter because it would “investigate their boss”.

When asked if the lyrics were appropriate or if she ran a toxic workplace, Ms. Argyle said she could not comment specifically.

“Frustrating as that may be, I am the mayor of the city of Nedlands, and I abide by the same rules that apply to everyone in local government,” she said.

“Section 5.123 of the Local Government Act makes it a criminal offense for persons involved in a complaint (for example, the complainant or the person complained of) to disclose information about complaints unless the Administrative Court or the Standards Panel issued a finding regarding the complaint.”

John D.Mayne
I love to write. When I wasn’t writing for my school newspaper or college blog, I was writing personal essays and journal entries. Then I discovered I loved to write. In college, I wrote for my school paper and my campus radio show. I started doing freelance writing for the Huffington Post in 2009. Then, I joined the team at Newsmyth as a writer/editor. Now, I spend most of my time writing for Newsmyth and as a guest blogger on a handful of other blogs. When I’m not writing, I like to read, travel, cook, and spend time with friends.