The proposed involvement of the Tweed’s biggest developer in a new conservative political lobby has sparked an implosion of the group with the resignation of its president, a former Tweed mayor.
The new group calling itself ‘Tweed Accountability Incorporated’, has ‘lost all credibility’ according to a scathing resignation letter by the ex-president of the group, Joan Van Lieshout.
The group, formed after the recent sacking of Tweed Shire Council’s general manager David Keenan, is continuing a campaign through a local newspaper to undermine the current council majority of progressive councillors.
The developer, Leda, apparently wanted to bankroll the position of a journalist in the new group, which the former president, Mrs Van Lieshout, believed would be seen by the community as helping the developer in its longrunning claims against Tweed Council.
One of the perceived reasons for Mr Keenan’s sacking was his disloyalty to council, by favouring Leda Developments in its long-term quest to investigate council staff and councillors.
Mrs Van Lieshout, a former member of the Liberal Party, in her letter of resignation said accepting money from Leda would harm the new group’s integrity.
She said Tweed Accountability ‘must be at “arm’s length” from anyone or body which would be seen as a “conflict of interest”.
‘This is an organisation calling for “transparency” and we would lose all of our credibility within the community if we were to be funded in this capacity,’ she said in her letter last month.
Repeated complaints by Leda about staff, councillors and consultants it sees as hurdles to speedy approvals for its massive developments have been previously rejected as unfounded, more recently in a thorough independent investigation by a private consultant with 14 years experience as an Australian Federal Police investigator.
And the Division of Local Government this week dismissed a code of conduct complaint by Leda based on email correspondence between Mr Keenan and councillors and published in the Tweed Daily News last Saturday, saying that it had assessed the matter and had determined that no action was warranted.
The newspaper tomorrow (Saturday) plans to publish more ‘secret files’ including allegations by conservative Cr Carolyn Byrne contained in an affidavit she provided to Tweed Accountability about her recollection of comments made over the sacking by Cr Gary Bagnall in a confidential meeting of council.
Under the council’s code of conduct, councillors are not allowed to divulge what was said in confidential meetings.
Cr Bagnall has rejected Cr Byrne’s claims, saying her version of what he said was either not accurate or his comments taken out of context.
The Tweed Daily News journalist working on the issue has admitted to Cr Gary Bagnall in an email this week that she was aware that Cr Byrne’s ally, Cr Warren Polglase, and the National Party were connected to the Tweed Accountability group, which is using the affidavit in a submission to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily that his political opponents, including Cr Byrne and Cr Polglase, as well as Leda, were ‘not happy’ with the dismissal of the code of conduct complaints by the Division of Local Government (DLG) and so now wanted the DPP to look at them.
The DLG in its findings said there were no corrupt conduct issues identified during its review of the latest code of conduct claim.
The DLG blamed Mr Keenan himself for the breakdown in relations between mayor Barry Longland and other councillors which led to Mr Keenan’s sacking, as he did not disclose issues he was obliged to with the mayor and councillors.
In this, the DLG said Mr Keenan had not understood his role as general manager or the role of the mayor and councillors.
Mrs Van Lieshout said she had accepted her position as president of Tweed Accountability, which was formed three months ago, ‘with hesitation’ as she was ‘well aware that it had been the conception of other well known community activists’.
‘It was also a surprise to me that those who had been proactive in the early stages since David Kennan’s sacking in pushing for accountability and action including Rural Industries representatives were not keen to take up office within the organisation,’ she wrote.
She said she had been reluctant to accept a high-ranking Murwillumbah National Party member on her committee because of the perception it would be seen as politically aligned.
She said it had also ‘become evident that the original objective “to pursue open, transparent and accountability governance” has only been in part but that the prime objective has taken the political form of gaining media exposure directly towards the Hon Don Page in his lack of responsibility in representing Mr David Keenan as General Manager of Tweed Shire Council’.
(Mr Page is the minister for local government and in charge of the DLG which had appointed an inspector earlier this year to look into the sacking and which had found council had acted appropriately in terminating Mr Keenan’s contract.)
Mrs Van Lieshout said division had emerged in the group following the committee meeting on September 18 and resignation the following day of a senior member from the committee.
She said she had become ‘very disturbed’ with a report received from the group’s legal counsel on September 12, in which the proposal to hire a journalist funded by Leda had emerged.
‘I made it very clear to the committee that we could in no way accept any association with Leda as it would be perceived by the community that we were aiding Leda in their pursuit of their claim against Council and that we must be at “arm’s length” from anyone or body which would be seen as a “conflict of interest”.
‘This is an organization calling for “transparency” and we would lose all of our credibility within the community if we were to be funded in this capacity.’
Mrs Van Lieshout and the other member who quit then told the legal counsel of their concern and that ‘we would not entertain the idea of being in any way associated with Leda’.
The committee was told the journalist was needed to be on board to write a media release before the September mayoral election.
Leda is behind the Tweed’s massive proposed developments at Kings Forest and Cobaki for 10,000 homes and its relationship with council has broken down over the years.
She was also concerned that after asking for relevant information as to who the group’s donors were, she ‘was always rejected and told that the donors did not want their names circulated’.
She concluded by saying ‘I believe that we have lost all credibility due to the lack of integrity and regard for our colleagues in accepting those differences and working together for the common goal’.
Meanwhile Cr Byrne has failed to respond to questions by Echonetdaily over her affidavit to Tweed Accountability.
One question included whether she agreed her affidavit was part of a wider ploy to undermine her opponents on council for political purposes.
Attempts to view the Tweed Accountability website have also failed as it has been hacked, with a notice saying ‘Hacked by Dbuzz’ and subtitled ‘Listen, tell your government to stop spying on Indonesia!’