THE cost of Singleton Council’s code of conduct Supreme Court dispute has hit $800,000 – and that’s legal bills alone.
The latest amount, a $172,500 payment towards deputy mayor Paul Nichols legal expenses, will be covered by a council insurance policy.
General manager Lindy Hyam confirmed the insurance payout yesterday and said some of the remaining $600,000, or so, may also be covered by insurance.
Despite the payment to Cr Nichols, he is still out of pocket more than $40,000 for legal bills associated with the case.
The $800,000 total does not include anything for council staff time involved in the debacle that has gone on for two and a half years.
It also does not include legal expenses since the end of July this year or an expected $30,000 bill for a yet to be made Supreme Court application to reveal who made the original anonymous complaint against Cr Nichols.
The matter arose in March 2010 when Cr Nichols was formally accused of leaking confidential information to two brothers with whom the council was in dispute over a rural property access.
Cr Nichols took Supreme Court action to address a lack of procedural fairness and Judge Monika Schmidt quashed and banned a council report which found him in breach of the conduct code without any supporting evidence.
After a further seven month inquiry by state government bureaucrats, no evidence or any breach was found and the original complaint was thrown out.
A Supreme Court suppression order on the anonymous complainant was imposed 13 months ago at the request of council staff on behalf of the council itself and Scott Greensill who had just resigned as the council’s general manager.
Councillors learned of the suppression application after it was made.
Cr Nichols’ solicitor Alex Irving confirmed the $172,500 payout and said Cr Nichols was disappointed that the matter took the course it did and believed the state government should have an inquiry into what happened, and why.
Cr Nichols said: “It’s not just the financial cost, this matter caused a lot of harm to a lot of people, had councillors acting like bickering school kids and damaged the reputation of the council as an institution.”
Mrs Hyam said she inherited the dispute when she became general manager about 12 months ago and hoped that it would soon be completed so that the council could more on.