DEPUTY mayor Paul Nichols has every right to be disappointed.
Five months ago the state government took control of a code of conduct dispute between him and Singleton Council, and where it’s up to now is anyone’s guess.
The Argus followed government media protocol this week and emailed five written questions to the Department of Premier and Cabinet, division of local government.
• What is happening with your department’s inquiry?
• Will a formal inquiry be held?
• What has been done so far?
• What is yet to be done?
• When is an outcome likely to be made pubic?
Government media spokeswoman Natasa Mitic provided a two sentence response: “It is inappropriate to comment on the investigation, at this time, as it is ongoing.
“The division is not able to provide a time frame by which the departmental report will be completed, other than to say that it will be done as soon as practicable, having regard to the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.”
It is more than two years since an anonymous code of conduct complaint against Cr Nichols was lodged with the council.
He was accused of leaking alleged confidential information to two Singleton ratepayers who were in a legal dispute with the council over access through a rural property.
The complaint asserted that Cr Nichols failed to act lawfully and honestly, was unethical and used confidential information to the council’s detriment and the ratepayers’ advantage.
Cr Nichols has, from the start denied, any wrongdoing.
A contract code of conduct reviewer found no evidence that anyone had disclosed anything to anyone yet concluded Cr Nichols “could have” and thus breached the code.
When the reviewer’s report was printed on a council meeting agenda and the council’s internet website, Cr Nichols took Supreme Court action to overcome what he believed was a lack of procedural fairness.
In December last year the court quashed the report and banned the council from giving it any consideration.
The council’s legal bill so far has topped $550,000 and is expected to reach $700,000 before the case is put to bed.
Immediately after the court decision, the council’s general manager Lindy Hyam said the original complaint remained “alive” and sought departmental advice that led to the premier’s department taking control of the matter.
Cr Nichols said yesterday: “To say I’m disappointed is an understatement, this is bull****.
“The original reviewer found no evidence to support the complaint so what do the government people think they’re going to find?
“I’m not standing for re-election to the council in September and I’m now concerned that they’ll delay things and make some sort of finding when I won’t have a chance to respond.”
Cr Nichols said he was not surprised that few people were interested in standing as a councillor at the September election because they may fear becoming a political target like him.
“The whole thing is a disgrace, particularly the amount of time the government, the governing body, is taking to deal with it,” he said.
Cr Nichols solicitor Alex Irving said correspondence he received months ago indicated the government would deal with the issue in March.