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.’
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.’