The former CEO of Lake Macquarie City's economic development company has lashed out at his ex-employer who fired him less than a month after securing government funding for the company for 10 more years.
Peter Francis was last month terminated as CEO of Dantia, an organisation that is funded by Lake Macquarie City Council and aims to deliver job creating investments for the city.
Mr Francis said he was "bitterly disappointed" and has taken the matter to the Fair Work Commission.
More than half of Dantia's staff have now left the company since May, with four other senior employees having resigned. Two of the employees tendered their resignation prior to the departure of Mr Francis, and two left after.
Mayor Kay Fraser, who is on the Dantia board, said it was a board decision to let Mr Francis go and they would be recruiting for the position soon. Katherine O'Regan, who was a Dantia board director, has been appointed interim CEO.
I am bitterly disappointed for the constituents of the Lake Macquarie City Council area.Peter Francis
Mr Francis believes he was let go after making "repeated requests for additional resources to ensure the wellbeing of the staff" so they could manage and deliver the project workload.
"And I put in place communication protocols to address workplace safety issues raised by the staff," he said.
Ms O'Regan said Mr Francis' claim of why he was ousted wasn't correct, but did not provide a response when asked why he was let go.
One former staff member said they resigned because of the board's actions and excessive workload, while another said Mr Francis' termination was part of the reason they had left.
SafeWork NSW confirmed it is "making initial inquiries" into a matter with Dantia, but would not comment further.
It comes after Lake Macquarie City Council voted to approve a 10-year funding agreement to Dantia on May 24, which will follow the expiration of the current agreement on June 30 next year.
The current 2018-22 agreement follows an initial agreement from 2014-18.
In a report to the May 24 meeting, council staff said "Dantia is well established and is delivering key economic outcomes for the city" and "Dantia have met the key performance indicators required in that agreement and have prepared a comprehensive long-term Economic Development Strategy, which was endorsed by Council in October 2018".
"Dantia's 2019-2020 Annual Report documents their annual performance, including facilitating the creation of 962 local jobs and more than $50 million of investment into the City," the report said.
"Additionally, during 2019-2020, Dantia supported over 150 businesses to innovate, grow, develop new products, relocate or invest in the City. Dantia has played a key role in supporting businesses during the current pandemic."
Councillor Wendy Harrison said councillors were given no hints that something was amiss when they approved the funding.
She said if she had known, it may have made her assess the funding request differently.
"I'm feeling uneasy about it," she said.
"I know Dantia is at arm's length from council, but we are their major funding body.
"My concern is that when we approved the new funding agreement in May it appeared there were no red flags prior to that."
Councillor John Gilbert said he wouldn't have supported it if he knew the CEO was on the way out.
"I think ratepayers would have expected me not to commit to something where the operative for past five years is going," he said.
"I would want to know who is going to be at the helm and how long it's going to take to get them in place."
Councillor Jason Pauling said he didn't have an issue with the move being made after the funding was extended.
"Full credit to Peter for what he's done," Cr Pauling said.
"But this is their problem to manage."
"If the board was to fragment, it would probably be a different story."
Mr Francis was appointed CEO of the company in 2017.
Dantia chair Chris Liddell said in a statement about the change of CEO that during Mr Francis' time at Dantia he had "built the business to be strong and successful with a positive profile not only in the city but across the region."
"The Board of Dantia thank Mr Francis for his energy, passion and commitment to Dantia and to Lake Macquarie," Mr Liddell said.
"We wish him well for the future and welcome Katherine to the role."
Mr Francis said he was disappointed to lose the opportunity to continue leading the high performing Dantia team.
He said the company had lost a lot of "organisational knowledge" and that the former employees' personal and professional relationships with key stakeholders was "irreplaceable" in the short to medium term.
"I am bitterly disappointed in the loss of a high performing results oriented team who genuinely cared about their communities' future abundance and prosperity," he said.
"We will all miss working with the company's clients and the staff at council and in state government with whom we had established highly productive working relationships.
"I am bitterly disappointed for the constituents of the Lake Macquarie City Council area.
"This presents a real threat to the delivery of $3.1 billion of job creating investments."
He also criticised the appointment of Ms O'Regan as interim CEO, saying she has "virtually no commercial experience" working in Lake Macquarie, Newcastle or the wider Hunter region.
In response Dantia said: "Katherine has strong commercial and government credentials and has experience in the region, the state and internationally".