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May 15, 2021

Mayor confident over GM sacking

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Luis Feliu

Tweed mayor Barry Longland has welcomed the announcement that Division of Local Government officers will meet with councillors and staff next week, saying he’s confident the backlash from his political opponents over the sacking of the general manager last week would die down as a result.

Cr Longland said that minister for local government Don Page, who told ABC North Coast that Tweed Council was within its legal rights to sack former GM David Keenan, had confirmed the visit yesterday.

Mr Keenan was sacked after majority councillors voted in confidential session to terminate his contract 10 months into the job.

The urgency motion by the mayor was passed 4–3, with the conservative bloc of Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne voting against.

An irretrievable breakdown in trust between the GM and councillors over various undisclosed issues is believed to be the reason for the termination.

But the minority conservative bloc on Council and their allies have embarked on an orchestrated campaign to have the council sacked instead and the GM reinstated.

Other community groups, however, have commended the decision, saying they were sure it was not taken lightly or without much consideration.

The campaign to undermine the majority progressive councillors who voted to sack the GM has been relentless since, with calls to local media and Mr Page by a business lobby group and associated backers for an investigation, as well as demands that Council explain its actions.

Groups allied to the pro-development bloc led by Cr Polglase, who had said after the GM’s dismissal that people would ‘call for Council’s sacking’, have since repeatedly labelled Council, elected only four months ago, ‘dysfunctional’.

Vicious

The campaign to reverse the decision has also had its vicious side, with threats, warnings, harassment and intimidation by supporters of the call to sack council targeted at a councillor who voted for the sacking.

The councillor was recently approached at his business in Murwillumbah by an angry and cricket bat wielding former council election candidate allied to the conservative bloc who complained bitterly about the move.

And a former conservative mayor warned the same councillor to ‘watch his back’ as a result of the political tussle.

Cr Longland said he was looking forward to openly discussing the current situation with Division of Local Government staff.

‘I am pleased to hear the minister and the Division’s commitment to support the Tweed to move forward,’ he said.

‘The meetings will enable officers to provide guidance and support to Council officers in relation to immediate operational matters.

‘For the elected body, this is about moving forward and I welcome any investigations and support from the Division to ensure Tweed continues down our progressive path,’ he said.

‘For the organisation, it is business as usual and there is no disruption to Council’s programs or services.’

Cr Longland will tonight meet privately with heads of the Tweed’s three main business chambers who have demanded the mayor explain his reasons for the sacking, even though Council does not have to under the terms of the GM’s contract.

Cr Longland has also met with other community leaders over the issue.

‘I assure the community that the elected body remains committed to developing and implementing an economic development strategy and that economic development is firmly on Council’s agenda,’ he said.

That was a reference to criticism by the sacked GM’s backers that the loss of his economic development expertise would be a blow to the Tweed.

Soured

Council watchers say several issues that the GM handled had soured relations between Mr Keenan and majority councillors.

These include the secret charging of two councillors for a code of conduct breach after they entered a Council quarry to investigate longstanding claims by a neighbouring resident of pollution of a waterway by the quarry operations.

Their intervention led to immediate work to minimise pollution there.

Reports had also circulated that staff morale at Council had sunk recently due to internal restructuring and policies instigated by the GM, who took up his appointment at the end of April last year.

But the last straw, Echonetdaily has been told, was an unprecedented action by Mr Keenan to investigate not only his staff but councillors on the back of ‘complaints’ made by the Tweed’s biggest developer, the Leda Group, which is behind the massive Kings Forest and Cobaki developments.

The councillors were told by Mr Keenan that they were being investigated, but were not given any specific details about the complaints against them and warned not to say anything about the investigation.

The move came just after Cr Longland left for his holiday and this is believed to have infuriated him.

It also rang alarm bells for some councillors who had previously been accused by Leda of slowing down their developments.

Leda in 2011 gave a so-called ‘secret’ 74 page ‘dossier’ to local media with details of people they considered to be hurdles to their developments, including local ecologists and councillors.

Some people were targeted in the ‘dossier’ simply because they made submissions to public consultation processes.

Rejected

But former longserving GM Mike Rayner did not buy the ‘complaints’ by the developer and dismissed the report. The ‘complaints’ are believed to be the same ones used by Mr Keenan in his quest to investigate councillors and staff.

Mr Keenan, 47, replaced Mr Rayner.

Before his appointment to Tweed Shire, Mr Keenan was chief executive officer of Mitchell Shire Council on the northern outskirts of Melbourne.

But he quit that job only after 18 months, with local media describing it as a ‘shock resignation’, given he had also overseen an extensive restructure of the council’s organisation and processes.

Local media reported that Mr Keenan told councillors he was leaving that shire for the Tweed for lifestyle reasons.

 


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7 COMMENTS

  1. Why hasn’t something been done about the ‘cricket bat wielding former council election candidate’? No-one should be intimidated like that. Cr Polglase’s remark to ‘watch his back’ is equally as threatening.

  2. Seems there are developers and their cohorts who think that they are above the law and democratic processes.

    There should be monetary trade offs between the ecology/environment and non stop development….the East coast of Australia has been larlgely trashed over the last 200 years, with all signs of a worsening scenario for future years.

  3. “But the minority conservative bloc on Council and their allies have embarked on an orchestrated campaign to have the council sacked instead and the GM reinstated.”

    Does this mean that the three conservative/pro-development councillors wanted themselves sacked and an Administrator appointed?????

    Cr Polglase was already Mayor of the previously sacked council, why would he want to be out of a job again?

  4. What needs to happen is that this information reaches the general public. Can’t believe that the Daily News remains mystified as to what has happened. You and the Gold Coast Bulletin seem to have a clue- why not them?

  5. Some of Mr. Keenan’s actions can best be described as immature, at worst it looks like he is pushing a political agenda on behalf of Polglase and Youngblut. Time will tell but I would like to say I am heartily sick of receiving emails from the various community groups I am a member of, exhorting me to get on a bus next week and protest his reinstatement. One, I don’t like my private email used for political purposes. Two, lets wait until AFTER an investigation has been conducted and we have facts to hand before going off half-cocked. At the moment this all looks like a National Party Cook-up. The two aforementioned dinosaurs will hopefully become a thing of the past come next election. They do nothing but cause trouble.

  6. Dear Editor

    The dismissal of the GM for Tweedshire was to be expected and is to be applauded. Let us get this straight Officers are the servants of our elected representatives – The Council. His treatment of some Councillors was appalling, when all they were doing was their job of checking up on electors’ complaints. This is after all one of the major and important functions of local Councillors.

    One suspects from talking informally with some Councillors that the GM supported the pro-development Councillors, and any who were on the side of trying to protect the environment were his “enemies” – his actual behaviour, in post, does tend to support this argument.

    He like the pro-development Councillors appeared to have put the prime motive of making a dollar ahead of our environment. As a Tweed resident I want balanced development, with our environment as a PRIME consideration in any decisions.

    I congratulate our Mayor and his three supporters in Council on their firm and definite action. The GM deserved what he got, he brought in on himself by his behaviour towards our Councillors. The people that we elected.

    Yours Sincerely

    Dr Jon Kear-Colwell
    20 Illawong Crescent
    TERRANORA, NSW 2486

    You may publish this letter.

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