Reykjavík city councilperson and municipal chair of the Centre Party Vigdís Hauksdóttir has been accused of bullying her Chief of Staff, Helga Björg Ragnarsdóttir, after the latter was herself accused of bullying a staff member, who subsequently sued the city last year.
Helga Björg’s complaint revolved around Vigdís’s behavior in a public discussion where the councillor repeatedly misstated her staffer had bullied a former employee.
This has led to an official complaint to the anti-bullying team, who have required that Vigdís participate in a formal procedure in investigating Helga Björg’s allegations. This is the first time an official has tried to force an elected official into this kind of investigation. But unsurprisingly, Vigdís has refused to participate, stating that there are no legal grounds for it. And what’s more—she has a point.
“This is the city hall inquisition,“ she wrote on her Facebook page, adding that Helga Björg could go to court if she wants to settle the issue.
To understand the ridiculousness of this complaint, though, it’s necessary to travel back to last summer, when, shortly after the municipal elections, newspapers in Iceland reported on the severance pay of a City staff member. Reports stated that he was given 250,000 ISK in compensation for being unlawfully reprimanded by Helga Björg.
Additionally, the city—and therefore the taxpayers—fronted the bill for the subsequent trial surrounding the reprimand, which amounted to over one million ISK.
Tre trial’s condemnation of Helga Björg was unusually harsh. The documents stated that the chief of staff’s conduct was condescending and that she treated her staff member like an “…animal in a circus that should stand and sit as she pleased.” But it was clear that she did not bully the staff member—only that the reprimand was unlawful.
A culture of bullying
In consequence, the Centre Party and members of the Independence Party officially complained at a City board meeting that they had serious concerns about the behaviour described in the verdict of the district court. They claimed that it was thus necessary to evaluate Helga Björg’s future within City Hall. The People’s Party and the Socialist Party subsequently lodged a complaint that there was actually an overwhelming culture of bullying allowed in the workplace. Vigdís Hauksdóttir, in particular, repeatedly highlighted this belief in public discussions.
The Chief Administrative Officer of City Hall, Stefán Eiríksson, disputed these claims. The court’s verdict was not about bullying, he emphasised, but was actually about administrative actions and the legality of them. Though this was correct, the person that the case involved—a.k.a. the guy that Helga Björg had reprimanded—said repeatedly in his statements for the court that she had bullied him.
In an unprecedented move, Helga Björg responded to these allegations in an open letter on the City’s webpage, demanding that the presidium look into these matters and establish an investigative committee to explore whether or not she had been a bully. She also said that the misstatements of various councillors were serious and hurtful.
I am no circus animal!
There wasn’t much subsequent news about the case until a few weeks ago when Helga Björg’s attorney served Vigdís a 100-page statement accusing the Centre Party leader of bullying. Vigdís was far from humble about the statement and took to Facebook to vent, writing, “Congratulations, the inquisition of the City Hall has begun. I am an elected official and work in the mandate of my voters. Someone is obsessed here. I am no ‘circus animal.’”
Later, Vigdís said in an interview at RÚV that she met this woman, Helga Björg, at three meetings in total. “The fact that she is accusing me of bullying her is obviously absolutely insane,” she said.
Vigdís then added that her only crime was that of defending the staff member who was reprimanded. “And that is part of my duty,” she added.
Vigdís also said that she refused completely to comply with the anti-bullying committee. “There is no legal ground for this. If these people want to talk to me, I suggest the courtroom.“
What if she says no?
It’s not clear what’s going to happen next. Kolbrún Baldursdóttir, a council member for the People’s Party, and a psychiatrist that used to specialise in bullying, said that there was no way to force Vigdís into the investigation.
In an interview with radio station Bylgjan, she said, “You can’t reprimand or fire an elected official. Beside it’s not possible to force people to participate in an investigation like this if they don’t want to participate in it. So if one thinks that the individual has done something wrong, the only way is the courtroom.”
This is war
Vigdís’s reactions have been harsh and she’s now on a warpath. Her latest addition to the argument was on Facebook, where she asked, “How much will this circus cost the taxpayers?” She repeated that it was impossible for her to bully a woman that she had barely met. She then added: “This is a war of officials against an electorate. If they have something to say, they can go to court.”
She then said that she is seriously considering a libel case but didn’t disclose against who or for what exactly. It seems the odd dispute of bullying in City Hall is far from over, and might have just begun.
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