A push by the Tweed’s biggest developer to try and sideline progressive councillors who had voted to sack the former general manager has been dismissed by the state government.
Leda Developments through its regional manager Reg van Rij has recently embarked on a campaign suggesting that some councillors, who are not part of the pro-development faction, had done something wrong by voting to dismiss former GM David Keenan.
Mr Van Rij attended rallies backed by local National Party bigwigs earlier this year calling for the sacking of the four, who are the majority on council, for their role in dismissing the GM.
He and Mr Keenan both gave selective interviews in the past few weeks to some local newspapers over the sacking issue, with Mr van Rij saying he had obtained confidential emails through freedom of information laws between mayor Barry Longland and Mr Keenan which could lead to the suspension of one or more councillors.
Mr van Rij told APN Media his company had obtained ‘disturbing’ and ‘very alarming’ information relating to the dismissal, but refused to disclose details.
And despite the publication at the weekend of the email trail on the issue in a sensational-style four-page spread by the Tweed Daily News, the Division of Local Government yesterday told Tweed Shire Council it would not be taking any action on code of conduct complaints lodged by Leda in September.
It is the third time council has been cleared over issues related to Leda.
Last month an independent consultant, after a thorough investigation, found claims by Leda of corruption by councillors over its dealings with the developer were unfounded.
A previous bid, soon after the GM dismissal, by the minority pro-development councillors (Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne) and their National Party backers to sack their opponents on council failed when the Division found Mr Keenan’s sacking was lawful.
Mr van Rij had claimed in the Tweed Daily News that the latest misconduct claims ‘could lead to the suspension of one or more councillors for a period’, but he was again proved wrong.
Tweed Shire Council’s acting general manager Troy Green yesterday said a letter from the Division had ‘determined that no action was warranted under the Council’s Code of Conduct or the misconduct provisions of the Local Government Act 1993 in relation to the matters raised by Leda’.
Mr Green had referred the latest misconduct complaint to the Division.
The email correspondence in late February published by the Tweed Daily News at the weekend between Cr Longland and Mr Keenan indicates that a probe which Leda wanted of council staff and councillors over their dealings with the developer, and the ‘disloyalty’ Mr Keenan had showed to his own council as a result, were the main reasons behind the dismissal.
The email correspondence reveals that Cr Longland was upset and disturbed by Mr Keenan’s action, without consulting the mayor, to call for quotes and choose a consultant ‘to carry out the work of Leda – assisting in their efforts to bring our DPR (director of planning resources) to his knees simply because he and his division are doing their objective best on behalf of the organisation and the residents of the Tweed Shire’.
Mr Keenan had told Cr Longland he had assumed authority to launch the investigation after consulting with the Divison of Local Government over Leda’s complaint.
But Cr Longland had replied that Mr Keenan had ‘every right’ to question the Division’s advice and suggest an alternative course of action ‘one that demonstrates support for the organisation you lead’.
‘This decision will be seen down through the ranks of the organisation as one that shows you will take the side of the complainant first rather than as a last resort,’ Cr Longland told Mr Keenan.
‘I will be meeting with the DLG to bring to their attention the devastating impact that this course of action will have on a hard-working, dedicated and committed workforce.
‘I am very disappointed at your lack of judgement on this and your failure to take account of the lasting consequences of this action. You had other options,’ he said.
Mr Keenan then replied he had not taken the side of the developer and found Cr Longland’s comment ‘insulting’.
Mr Keenan’s contract was terminated at the following council meeting in a 4-3 vote.
Leda, which is behind the massive Kings Forest and Cobaki township developments for around 10,000 homes, has previously been accused of trying to conduct a ‘witchhunt’ of councillors, planners and consultants who they saw as obstacles in getting speedy approvals for their projects.
Former longtime council GM Mike Rayner had previously dismissed claims in so-called ‘dossiers’ which Leda had compiled about the staff and others, including personal attacks, which they had also selectively leaked to some media outlets.
The relationship between council and Leda has at times been testy and the developer has often run into trouble over its developments.
It was recently convicted and fined $32,500 in the Land and Environment Court and ordered to rehabilitate a 300-metre stretch of a creek in the Cudgen Nature Reserve adjacent to its Kings Forest land after contractors had bulldozed it and planted grass.
At the Cobaki project west of Tweed Heads, council last year considered taking legal action against the developer as a result of massive unauthorised earthworks and filling at the site, including the bulldozing of a freshwater wetland and endangered-frog habitat, and building an unauthorised road.
Bob Ell, the billionaire behind Leda, was one of the biggest donors, through one of his companies, to pro-development councillor candidates in a previous election campaign.