Tweed Shire councillor Carolyn Byrne has landed in hot water for her part in the leaking of alleged council discussions over the sacking of former general manager David Keenan.
And Cr Byrne, a member of the minority conservative faction, has also come under fire from former and longest-serving Tweed mayor Max Boyd for not having reported her concerns to authorities such as the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Cr Byrne is being investigated by the Division of Local Government (DLG) for breaching the council’s code of conduct by revealing late last year what she claimed were comments about the ex-GM’s sacking by her political opponents on council.
Cr Byrne’s account of the alleged conversation over Mr Keenan’s sacking by Cr Gary Bagnall during closed-door council meetings early last year was used by a newly-formed conservative political lobby group called Tweed Accountability Incorporated (TAI), which has links to National Party identities, including veteran Cr Polglase.
TAI, in its campaign supporting Mr Keenan, is using Cr Byrne’s affidavit of her account of the meetings in its bid to have legal action taken in favour of Mr Keenan.
But Mr Keenan is not a party to any legal action on his behalf by TAI, which carried out what council-watchers say was a campaign through a local newspaper to undermine the current council majority of progressive councillors.
The latest code-of-conduct complainant’s identity has not been revealed and councillors are prohibited under the code to discuss anything related to the complaint.
Mr Keenan’s sacking almost a year ago by a 4–3 majority of councillors was vindicated after the DLG later found it was all above board.
But the political backlash against the sacking by the three minority National Party-aligned or -backed councillors (Byrne, Polglase and Phil Youngblutt) and their supporters continued unabated.
And in a shock move that sparked the implosion of the group, its first-time president, former Tweed mayor Joan Van Lieshout, suddenly quit soon after it formed, saying TAI had lost all credibility by its links with one of the Tweed’s biggest developers, Leda, which is behind the massive Kings Forest and Cobaki township developments.
Mrs Van Lieshout, a former Liberal Party member, in a scathing resignation letter said Leda apparently wanted to bankroll the position of a journalist in the new group, which she believed would be seen by the community as helping the developer in its long-running claims against Tweed Council.
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.
Tweed mayor Barry Longland and the other councillors (Michael Armstrong, Gary Bagnall and Katie Milne) voted to sack Mr Keenan because of the breakdown of the relationship between them and the GM.
Another 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.
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.
The DLG late last year dismissed a code-of-conduct complaint by Leda against majority councillors based on email correspondence between Mr Keenan and councillors and published in the Tweed Daily News saying that no action was warranted.
Ironically, Crs Bagnall and Milne have previously also been investigated for code-of-conduct breaches that had been brought against them by Mr Keenan but have since been quietly dropped.
Crs Bagnall and Milne were cited after they entered a council quarry without staff permission to take a look at complaints it was polluting a nearby creek, which were later proven.
According to a report in the Tweed Daily News this week, the DLG says the Whistleblower’s Act only protects Cr Byrne if she goes directly to the media.
In the same report, former and longest-serving Tweed mayor Max Boyd slammed Cr Byrne for not going through official channels to register her concerns.
Mr Boyd told the Tweed Daily News that any councillor who divulged what was said in confidential sessions ‘has erred very badly’ and that she should have reported her concerns to the DLG and ICAC.
Councillors found to have breached the code of conduct face suspensions, mediation and fines but the code itself has come under fire in state parliament for being misused.
NSW MLC Marie Ficarra told MPs several years ago that code-of-conduct complaints by a then councillor and the then general manager at Tweed against former Cr Van Lieshout were politically motivated.