THE axing of Tweed Shire Council's general manager David Keenan has to date cost ratepayers at least $250,000, including a $204,000 payout.
It includes consultancy fees of $30,000 and is likely to be a conservative figure, according to a council source.
Tweed Accountability Inc. spokesman Colin Brooks said the cost would escalate dramatically if the Department of Public Prosecutions pursued his group's claim that the sacking on March 21 was a breach of the Whistleblowers Act, as reported by the Daily News last week.
"It's a cost that this shire should never have had to wear," Mr Brooks said.
The tumultuous episode at Tweed could also lead to a shake-up in the legislation that oversees the relationship between GMs and councillors.
Under current legislation in a standard contract, a majority of council has the power to dismiss a GM for any or no reason.
The Minister for Local Government Don Page, in a letter to Cr Carolyn Byrne in May, indicated reform may be on the cards as a result of events like those at Tweed.
"I have appointed a Local Government Act Taskforce chaired by former MP John Turner to review the current Local Government Act including the provisions dealing with the employment and dismissal of general managers," he wrote.
"I've asked Mr Turner to take into consideration the Tweed Shire Council experience and other experiences in relation to general managers when taking recommendations to the NSW Government for changes to the current Local Government Act.
"I've asked Mr Turner to contact you so the taskforce can have the benefit of your deliberations." Cr Byrne confirmed she had spoken to Mr Turner to outline her concerns which included a vote being taken to sack a senior staffer without any foundation.
"There was no debate on the grounds for the sacking. The mayor only stated that he had ongoing concerns for some time," Cr Byrne said.
"He failed to express the facts of these concerns or debate any such grounds."
Security of tenure for general managers under the standard form of contract was said to be one of the issues that was to be investigated by a working party set up by the taskforce.
A spokesman for the mMinister said the taskforce had now completed its work, with the State Government now considering its recommendations.
David Keenan, who will soon return to live in Victoria, declined to comment this week.
But he did want to deny a rumour that he was now, or had ever, worked for Leda Developments. Leda has also denied that they had employed Mr Keenan.
Developer wants mayor's response
THE Tweed's biggest developer is demanding answers from Mayor Barry Longland over his blunt appraisal of the company published in last week's Daily News. In the email sent to Cr Carolyn Byrne in February, which was included in an affidavit, Cr Longland accused Leda Developments of attacks on due process and trying to bully the council into submission.
"Dear Cr Longland, I am appalled by statements reported to have been made by you (Tweed Daily News, Nov 9) in an email to Cr Byrne," Leda executive chairman Bob Ell writes in an open letter written this week.
"Since this has been made public, I call upon you immediately to publicly provide the full details upon which you have based these disgraceful claims.
"That you hold these outrageous opinions about us shows, now beyond doubt, the good faith in which we initially dealt with you about our concerns to have been misplaced."
Mr Ell called on Cr Longland to make a public response "in accordance with the facts." Leda and the council have had a tense relationship for several years.
The low down on the sacking of the GM
AFTER reading more than 100 confidential documents and emails relating to the GM's dismissal and speaking to some of the figures involved, here's some key conclusions that can be drawn:
- There was no smoking gun behind David Keenan's dismissal.
- There is no evidence of corruption by the four councillors who voted to dismiss the ex-GM - Mayor Barry Longland, Michael Armstrong, Gary Bagnall and Katie Milne - but whether there was some illegality may yet be determined by the courts.
- It appears the four councillors' actions were motivated in part by self-preservation, self-interest and payback.
- The GM's contract allowed him to be sacked for just about anything, but whether the reasons that have emerged are acceptable in the court of public opinion is another matter.
- One of the causes of the trouble within council was a clash of personalities. The ex-GM is a pedantic do-things-by-the-letter-of-the-law person working with at least a couple of councillors who are not.
- The GM had also upset the mayor while pursuing his reform brief, including wanting councillors to be subject to drug and alcohol tests.
- The mayor believed Keenan had been disloyal in pursuing the complaints against councillors and had wrongly failed to keep him informed about his actions.
But an independent investigation of the code of conduct complaint was the only option mentioned in advice from the Division of Local Government (DLG)
- Keenan was also entitled to believe he was following procedure and the advice provided to him by the DLG which included stressing that he not involve anyone in the process who was named in the complaints, which included the mayor. This was to appease Leda Developments' concerns about a lack of objectivity during the previous internal inquiry.
- These key points of dispute may have been resolved during mediation had that option been offered to the Ironically, only on the day Keenan was sacked did a letter arrive from the DLG stating that while an independent investigation was still their suggested course of action, ultimately it was up to the council.
- The DLG's altered advice was most likely sparked by the mayor's meeting with DLG personnel in Sydney days before at which he was given conflicting advice to that provided to Keenan
- The DLG has a lot of explaining to do.
- Some people are allowing their dislike of Leda Developments and/or Keenan to blind them to the disturbing lack of transparency surrounding the GM's dismissal.
- Just after learning he was one of those named in a code of conduct complaint, the mayor began secretly plotting the demise of his GM who was tasked with pursuing the independent investigation. The mayor's aim was aided by the fact that two councillors were furious with the GM for his pursuit of similar complaints against them. A fourth councillor, in the same voting block, unsuccessfully tried to slash the GM's legal budget to also stop him pursuing the complaints. The mayor refused to elaborate on the reasons for the late-night sacking of the GM even in a confidential council meeting.
- The GM was given a good performance review by the councillors just four months before at his six-monthly performance review.
- If you don't believe such events warrant scrutiny, we have a bridge over the Tweed River we'd like to sell you.
- The sacking has never been independently assessed because the DLG was sent to look at a mess they helped create.
- When Keenan asked for an investigation of the DLG's actions, he was told by the NSW Ombudsman that they would not be pursuing it as the DLG did not agree with his account of events. Yes, minister.
- This episode, coming after the sacking of the council in May 2005 amid allegations of corruption, has again seriously undermined the confidence of many residents in Tweed Shire Council.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.