Tweed Shire Cr Carolyn Byrne has been found guilty of breaches of confidentiality and is to be formally censured for misconduct after an investigation found she had leaked confidential information to a conservative political group campaigning for the return of sacked former general manager David Keenan.
The information leaked by Cr Byrne, a solicitor and law lecturer, was subsequently provided to a local news outlet and used in a story critical of the majority faction of council which voted to sack the former GM.
Cr Byrne, aligned with the National Party minority faction on Tweed Shire Council, had provided the confidential information to a lawyer acting for a newly formed political lobby group called Tweed Accountability Incorporated (TAI), which was formed in the wake of Mr Keenan’s sacking last year.
The councillor was 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 made during a late-night and often heated sitting over the issue.
Cr Byrne’s account of the alleged comments regarding Mr Keenan’s sacking by Cr Gary Bagnall during the closed-door council meeting was used by the lobby group, which has links to National Party identities including veteran Cr Polglase, in their campaign for the return of Mr Keenan.
At the time, Cr Bagnall claimed that Cr Byrne had over-exaggerated and misquoted what he said at the closed-door meeting.
The lobby group used Cr Byrne’s affidavit of her account of the meetings in its bid to have legal action taken in favour of Mr Keenan.
At its last meeting, Tweed Shire councillors dealt with the investigation report confidentially, with Cr Byrne having to leave the chamber and taking no part in the debate or vote.
Based on the findings of the report about Cr Byrne’s release of confidential information, council voted 3-2 (Crs Polglase and Youngblutt against, Cr Bagnall absent) for Cr Byrne to be formally censured for the breach under the Local Government Act.
The case will also be referred to the Office of Local Government for further action under the misconduct provisions of the Act.
Mr Keenan’s sacking over 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 fuelled by the three minority National Party-aligned or -backed councillors (Byrne, Polglase and Phil Youngblutt) and their supporters continued unabated.
That push came unstuck when first-time president of Tweed Accountability Incorporated (TAI), 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 Shire 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 the question of his loyalty to council, regarding the extent to which he may have favoured Leda Developments in its long-term quest to investigate council staff and councillors.
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.