MOVES began this week to reveal the person who made the $1million anonymous code of conduct complaint against Singleton deputy mayor Paul Nichols.
Monday’s state government decision to finally throw out the complaint triggered a decision, made by Singleton councillors four months ago, calling for a joint application with Cr Nichols to have a Supreme Court suppression order lifted.
Judge Monika Schmidt imposed the order in August last year after a request by representatives of the Newcastle legal firm Sparke Helmore on behalf of Singleton Council and its then general manager Scott Greensill.
Councillors learned of the application after it was made.
Cr Nichols’ barrister, Robert Lovas, told the August court hearing that the person who made the complaint may have been beholden to Mr Greensill and they may have collaborated.
A barrister for Mr Greensill and the council, John Griffiths, successfully argued that complainants should be given immunity so they could make complaints without fear of reprisal.
The council’s acting general manager Anthony Egan told The Argus this week that he had asked a Sparke Helmore representative for advice on having the suppression order lifted.
The advice was expected to form the basis of a report to the council’s next regular meeting on Monday night along with details of what the code of conduct complaint had cost the council.
The council’s legal bill for the case had reached $600,000 in April and was expected to top $1million once the whole matter was completed, a payment made to Cr Nichols and the cost of council staff time accounted for.
The original two-and-a-half year ago anonymous complaint accused Cr Nichols of acting unlawfully, dishonestly and unethically and leaking confidential information to two brothers the council was in dispute with and whom Mr Greensill advised councillors not to contact.
Cr Nichols denied any wrongdoing and took Supreme Court action to address a lack of procedural fairness.
The court quashed the council’s report and the state government this week threw out the original complaint because there was no evidence to support its allegations.
Cr Nichols and his solicitor Alex Irving have called for a public inquiry into how and why the code of conduct debacle happened.
They want the community to know who made the anonymous complaint, who was responsible for continually processing the complaint and what could be done to recover the $1million and ensure the situation was not repeated.
Cr Nichols said: “There’s a lot that needs to become public, I met with Mr Greensill, and (the then) assistant general manager Henry Wilson, more than two years ago and they suggested I get a written agreement with the brothers for the full council to consider to resolve their dispute.
“Then, my contact with the brothers was used against me in the anonymous complaint.
“This whole thing has cost ratepayers plenty, its cost me plenty too, put a lot of stress on my family and it should never have happened.”
Cr Nichols said someone should to be accountable and he would support a joint submission today to have the court suppression order lifted.
Mr Egan declined to comment on a public inquiry and mayor Sue Moore also declined, saying it was a matter for all councillors to consider.
Cr Moore said she had no problem supporting a submission to have the suppression lifted and looked forward to the state government changing its model code of conduct requirements to prevent the Singleton situation being repeated.
Cr Lyn MacBain said all councillors and Singleton residents should be outraged by the anonymous complaint and she would do all she could at her last meeting on Monday night to have revealed the names of the complainant and those who progressed the complaint.
Mr Wilson told The Argus this week that his recollections of the meeting with Mr Greensill and Cr Nichols were tendered to the Supreme Court.
“What came from the meeting was that any proposal (from the Jones brothers) should come through the Jones brothers’ solicitor, however the arrangement was reached,” Mr Wilson said.
“And that’s what happened, an offer came through the solicitor that was considered by the council.”
In response to Argus questions, state government spokeswoman Natasa Mitic said the government had not received a request for a public inquiry.
She said a model code of conduct review was underway “to design a system that supports the highest standards of behaviour in local government, in a simple, clear and cost-effective way.
“The revised model code will improve the procedures available to councils for the management of conduct complaints.”
Throughout the proceedings Mr Greensill declined to comment to The Argus on the matter and said he looked forward to making a full statement once it was finalised.
A number of questions were faxed to Mr Greensill, who is now Clarence Valley Council general manager, to which he responded: “Regardless of the outcomes, I am pleased that the matter is now finalised as I am sure that a lot of people are and look forward with getting on with my life.”