A spokesman for Tweed Shire Council general manager Mike Rayner says legislation prevents him from confirming or denying a tip-off that property mogul Bob Ell is again trawling through more council files and emails via a new freedom of information (FOI) search application.
Mr Rayner has also defended his earlier decision not to tell councillors that their emails were being scrutinised under a previous FOI search to create so-called dirt files.
The councillors’ emails are among scores unearthed by Mr Ell’s Leda group in a massive fishing expedition aimed at exposing an alleged multi-level conspiracy which the billionaire says is impeding two major residential projects in the shire.
Greens councillor Katie Milne says she learnt through her own FOI search that Leda sought information on comments ‘by any councillors about the Kings Forest project’ in July last year, but as far as she was aware staff did not tell her or other councillors.
‘I am not very happy that staff chose not say anything to us. Councillors are like a board of directors and the general manager is supposed to be working for us. They could have told us if they wanted to,’ she said.
But a spokesman for Mr Rayner said there was no obligation to advise councillors of an FOI request if it related to council business and did not disclose information that was of a ‘personal’ nature.
He said if it did, the councillor would be consulted on whether all, part or none of the information would be released, but this did not apply to any of the emails subject to the request.
Leda’s FOI request sought ‘all correspondence, notes of conversations, internal memos and deleted emails’ about their developments dating back to January 2007 when the council was still under administration and nearly two years out from an election.
Leda used some of the emails to compile two volumes of documents accusing some council and government agency staff, ecologists and certain councillors of being involved in a plot to impose unreasonable restraints on the development of the proposed Kings Forest and Cobaki developments totalling 10,000 homes.
One of the emails cited in the files was sent by Cr Milne and forms the basis of a defamation action against her by Mr Ell after it was leaked by Cr Warren Polglase, but Mr Rayner’s spokesman denied it was one of the emails released under the FOI search, even though it was in council’s possession.
The company, which gave copies of its files to councillors and local government minister Don Page in October, wants the government to order an inquiry and remove the council from the approvals process.
Tweed Council has yet to formally reply to Leda’s five-week-old conspiracy allegations, saying they are waiting on advice from the Division of Local Government.
(Note: the term FOI is used here for consistency with previous stories; the FOI Act has been replaced by the Government Information Public Access Act or GIPAA).