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Byron Shire
February 9, 2023

Council’s ‘secret’ campaign against community group fails

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Byron Shire Council general manager Ken Gainger. Photo supplied
Delegated authority: Byron Shire Council general manager Ken Gainger. Photo supplied

Byron Shire Council staff have failed in an attempt to force a Byron Bay residents group to supply membership and donor names and addresses through the courts – all without informing councillors.

It comes as Council were also unsuccessful in court on October 31 in recovering part of their $453,129.29 in legal costs from the Butler Street Community Network, who challenged Council’s bypass plans.

The Echo understands general manager Ken Gainger was delegated authority by councillors to defend the court case brought by residents.

As to the status of the overblown bypass budget, The Echo is yet to receive a reply from staff.

Both mayor Simon Richardson (Greens) and Cr Paul Spooner (Labor) confirmed with The Echo that they were not informed of staff’s request to the courts for the personal information of the residents’ group.

Cr Richardson said he would be ‘happy to follow it up.’

‘Any of Council’s funds spent on defending its decisions, even when successful, or spent following up in seeking costs to be paid, is a regrettable use of funds.

‘Heaven knows, we could spend legal expenses in a myriad of better ways; however, if Council rolls over, over time others launch legal action [and] we would also be in a perilous position when trying to make decisions on behalf of the whole community.’

Meanwhile, Cr Spooner added he ‘doesn’t support vexatious court cases against community members.’

As for the current status of the bypass, he said costings have not shifted since $20m was previously announced.

He said, ‘We are still $6m short; there has been no movement on this from the state government that I know of.’

Initially shocked

Butler Street Community Network president Paul Jones told The Echo, ‘We were initially shocked by the claim for costs sought by Council given their own error had caused the issue.’

‘But the breadth of further information Council was demanding was simply outrageous.

‘Our community organisation is a not-for-profit association of private individuals. Council was launching a fishing expedition obviously intended to garner information in a way that was highly intimidating and suspicious.

‘The Network negotiated with Council over several weeks to seek an out of court settlement.

‘The Network refused to reveal its private affairs, however, an offer of $4,000 in good faith was made to the Council to settle the matter.

‘The Council was also informed that the Network had no assets, so even if the Council did get a favourable order, the Network would dissolve. But Council refused the offer and chose, instead, to waste more ratepayers’ money on a misguided effort to bully the Network and other community associations.

‘Byron Shire Council continued to pursue our association,’ said Jones. ‘Literally tearing up ratepayers’ money with no hope of recovery in an exercise to discourage and destroy the community’s voice.

‘We are now demanding no less than the resignation of the general manager (GM) Ken Gainger.’

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  1. i agree ken gainger should be held accountable.

    either he resigns immediately or we start a campaign against him with fast bucks in charge.

    $453000 is a lot of money to waste just to try to intimidate a community group.

    lucky this is byron and not some backwater.

    gainger must GO !!!

  2. Council are being disingenuous and behaving like bullies,

    Their lawyers would surely have known that it is nearly impossible to obtain personal information on the members of an incorporated association for costs purposes.

    The costs both direct legal such as appearances, Barristers, advices, solicitors for a 1 day hearing is up 15 to 30 k. Plus indirect costs to ratepayers Council officer work times, air fares etc to brief these lawyers Anyway the solicitors must be leading the Council by the nose straight to their bank account.

    People n community groups should not allow this show to turn them against
    organising legal strategies for environmental and cultural heritage protection. .It should encourage them as by the General Manager appears to be very concerned about legal action.

    In fact Butler st are doing an awsome job by leading a way to put an issue on the agenda.and into the courts.

    The proposed West Byron development is the main game here though and legal action will be a vital weapon,

    The lessons learned from butler street will be vital in this legal process

  3. Didn’t Mike Baird leave politics?
    Sounds like something the ‘NSW’ steamroller would have done, not the Greens. It’s not a compliment just in case people reading this are inspired by his unfortunate politics that caused harm to many in NSW during his reign. Forgotten where they come from. Lining their own careers & agendas.
    Shame! Simon, while claiming he did not know, used to be a pretty good bloke, was about community & proud of it.
    Wrong voice, wrong message.
    Maybe they should pack it in & move to the big ‘smoke’!


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