Byron Shire Council’s startling revelations over planning objections and implementation of their Belongil Rock Wall resolution raise fresh concerns over the council’s processes.
On Tuesday July 28 the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) solicitor, Nina Lucas, acting on a complaint from the group Positive Change For Marine Life, emailed a letter to council’s general manager Ken Gainger requesting that an environmental impact study on the rock wall’s implementation be undertaken.
The emailed letter required that a response be provided to the EDO by Friday July 31 and that failure to do so would likely lead to an injunction to stop the work.
On Wednesday July 29 mayor Simon Richardson was asked about the letter by Byron Residents’ Group president Cate Coorey. He said he had no knowledge of its existence.
The following afternoon council’s acting general manager Phil Holloway rang marine biologist Mary Gardner in response to her query as to the timeline for works on the Belongil. Holloway said works were proceeding according to plan, and he expected they would meet a timeline for start of construction in four weeks. Holloway replied he had no knowledge of the EDO’s letter.
On Monday August 3, three days after the EDO’s deadline, mayor Richardson told Cate Coorey that he expected that there would be a council meeting that day or the next to discuss the EDO’s letter and threat of injunction. This meeting never took place.
When I asked mayor Richardson how it was that he only heard about the letter at the end of the week he explained it came about ‘because the general manager was off sick, as was a senior secretarial staffer’. He noted, ‘It clearly shows the system needs urgent reviewing.’
Asked about what normal processes operate at Lismore’s council, their mayor, Jenny Dowell, says, ‘I get phone calls and emails regularly all day from the general manager on any issue of significance.’
Recent mayor of Randwick Council, Murray Matson, like Richardson a Green, says, ‘I met our general manager every morning. I would find it an extraordinary matter if the general manager had not informed me that the council had received written material from a solicitor calling for action.’
Code of conduct breach?
More alarming is the process by which Hardings Earthmoving received the contract to install the rock wall. Hardings have been successfully prosecuted or taken to court several times by Byron Shire Council in recent years. Council initially rejected Harding’s quote, although cheaper than the others.
Councillor Sol Ibrahim has admitted he entered into a conversation with Hardings’ rock wall consultant, Angus Jackson, after receipt of the confidential agenda for the council meeting of March 19, 2015. Cr Ibrahim later presented Resolution 15-115 to engage contractor Hardings, which was successful.
Cr Ibrahim’s email on that contact was supplied to council.
His discussion of this at the meeting of council on March 19 was recorded.
Section 6.2d of the Byron Shire Council’s Code of Conduct states that ‘Councillors or administrators must not: d) contact or issue instructions to any of council’s contractors or tenderers, including council’s legal advisers, unless by the Mayor or administrator exercising their power under section 226 of the Act’.
When Mayor Richardson was asked how this is not a breach of Council’s Code of Conduct and what are the consequences, ie would Cr Ibrahim be reported to the ICAC, the mayor replied, ‘Consultants of tenderers or subcontractors within tenderer teams should not be speaking to councillors while the process is incomplete’ but made no further comment.