ANOTHER chapter in the apparent political witch-hunt against Singleton councillors Alison Howlett and Paul Nichols was closed this week.
The council dismissed 11 code of conduct complaints against Cr Howlett and six against Cr Nichols on Monday night.
The meeting was peppered by heated verbal exchanges, several mysterious allegations and, at various stages, had four councillors in tears.
Numerous code of conduct complaints over the past three years, particularly anonymous ones unrelated to this week’s crop, have cost the council more than $1million and at times turned it into a completely dysfunctional organisation.
The stream of baseless complaints has convinced councillors Howlett, Nichols, Lyn MacBain and Maxine Smith not to recontest their council seats at the September 8 local government election.
A solicitor representing councillors Howlett and Nichols, Alex Irving, described this week’s complaints against the pair as “rubbish”.
He recommended a contract reviewer’s 289 page report, which cost the council $80,000, be rejected and all complaints be dismissed.
Singleton resident Noreen Thwaite told councillors their code of conduct policy was a joke and total disgrace that had been abused to threaten people and waste thousands of dollars of public money.
Neither councillor Howlett nor Nichols had breached the code and they, and their families, had unnecessarily been put through two years of hell, Mrs Thwaite said.
Cr Fred Harvison rose to his feet when the meeting agenda reached allegations against Cr Howlett.
He said that as a result of recent developments, he could not act impartially, and walked out.
He returned to debate and vote on allegations against Cr Nichols.
Cr Harvison told The Argus after the meeting that he left because a private investigator had spied on him and other members of the council’s “coffee club”.
“I have some very strong feelings about that, and as I would probably have said things I shouldn’t have, I thought it was better that I was out of it all together,” Cr Harvison said.
The code of conduct complaints dismissed on Monday night were lodged in January last year by Tara Hungerford, a director of TMH Property Group in relation to development applications to build residential units in Cranston Avenue, Singleton.
The units were eventually approved.
Mrs Hungerford alleged Cr Howlett said something Cr Howlett denied saying and was disrepectful to Mrs Hungerford, did not deal with her applications fairly or on merit and gave objectors preferential treatment and incited contempt and harassment from objectors.
Mrs Hungerford alleged Cr Nichols was also disrespectful to her, did not treat her applications fairly on their merit, made snide and derogatory remarks and harassed Cr Ruth Rogers.
Contract code of conduct reviewer John Cole dismissed all but one allegation against Cr Howlett and Cr Nichols, that they may have said things that could have been disrespectful and so they should apologise to Mrs Hungerford.
But when rejecting Mr Cole’s finding and dismissing all complaints, councillor after councillor said they hoped they never saw another code of conduct complaint in the council chambers.