Botched firing: Metro has to pay up

Gareth Wilson

AXED metro police boss Trish Armstrong has won R234000 for unfair dismissal by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, and is now pushing ahead with plans to sue the city for breach of contract and defamation.

Armstrong – who has helped launched three metro police forces in South Africa and one in Malawi – was head- hunted by the municipality in 2008 to help establish the metro police in the Bay.

But the outspoken lawyer’s relationship with officials soured – allegedly due to personality clashes and factionalism within the municipality – and she was eventually fired via e- mail one day before the Bay metro police force was due to be launched in February.

Her dismissal caused yet another delay in the establishment of the metro police – which has been in the pipeline since 2002 – as a new task team had to be appointed.

The four- month legal battle at the Labour Court involved accusations by the municipality that Armstrong’s contract was terminated after she allegedly violated conditions stipulated in her employment agreement.

The municipality has never said what these violations are and has also failed to give reasons supporting its breach of contract claims.

Part of the Labour Court’s ruling, which was made two weeks ago, was that the municipality back-pay Armstrong four months’ salary. On Wednesday, she was paid R234000 from the municipal coffers.

Yesterday Armstrong – who was formerly director of operations at the Ekurhuleni metro police, head of the legal section of the Tshwane metro police and a key player in the establishment of the Cape Town metro police department – said she did not want to comment on the merits of the case as she intended to institute further claims.

“This was an attack on me and I intend to fight it,” she said. “I am in consultation where I intend to seek further damages for the breach of contract and defamation of character.

“The papers are being drawn up and will be served in the near future.”

In a draft report to Safety and Security MEC Helen Sauls August, Armstrong’s report highlighted that various cost- saving measures had been introduced to save money.

Despite this lengthy report, the municipality launched the process anew a month after her dismissal.

The report stressed that the municipality would bear minimal additional costs during the roll-out phase as the combined budgets of the traffic and security departments would be used to get the project off the ground.

It said the roll-out would see the municipal assets, such as vehicles and office space, reused – minimising costs but at the same time increasing revenue.

Mystery surrounds the reason for the second task team as Armstrong’s team had found that the metro police would be a viable option and could potentially recover the millions of rand outstanding for traffic violations.

Nelson Mandela Bay Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron would not comment on Armstrong’s payout and refused to say if any action would be taken against the official who issued the dismissal notice.

He would not comment on the metro police unit.

A spokesman for Sauls-August – who is away – had failed to comment by the time of going to print.

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