Injunction silences Cessnock Council debate – Cessnock’s Saddest Day
Last Wednesday the Mayor of Cessnock Council instigated Supreme Court action to obtain an injunction preventing 10 Cessnock Councillors considering the performance of the General Manager.
It is a very sad day when the elected representatives can’t vote!
Injunction silences Cessnock Council debate
THE NSW Supreme Court has barred Cessnock city councillors from considering the future of general manager Lea Rosser until at least May.
In a sensational turn of events yesterday Cessnock mayor Alison Davey took legal action against 10 of the city’s 12 ward councillors.
The Supreme Court hearing was told Ms Rosser had reported conduct to the Independent Commission Against Corruption that ‘‘implicated’’ some councillors.
No details of the allegations were presented.
The court granted the council an injunction late yesterday to prevent councillors debating at a meeting last night a confidential motion from Cr Cordelia Burcham that proposed Ms Rosser’s removal.
Cr Davey ordered the council’s lawyers to seek the injunction, after only councillors Ian Olsen and Rachel Main agreed to provide written undertakings before the meeting that they would ‘‘refrain from taking action’’ to dismiss Ms Rosser.
The other 10 councillors were sent court summonses on Tuesday night, ordering them or their representatives to appear in court in Sydney at noon yesterday.
Lawyers for the council argued Ms Rosser had made a disclosure about alleged corrupt conduct under the provisions of legislation aimed at protecting whistleblowers.
Cr Burcham’s motion, any support for it from implicated councillors, and any actions by the council to implement it, could be ‘‘characterised as a reprisal action’’ against a whistleblower, in breach of the law, the council’s representatives said.
Ms Rosser reported the allegations to the ICAC on Monday. It followed an internal investigation late last year into procurement practices, about which Ms Rosser had raised concerns.
The council publicly revealed the investigation on March 5 and said it would refer the findings to the ICAC.
Cr James Ryan told the court yesterday he had been aware of staff and councillor ‘‘unrest’’ for some months.
In a confidential session at a March 7 meeting, Cr Burcham had put forward a similar motion about Ms Rosser’s performance as general manager. The motion was ruled out of order.
Cr Ryan moved another similar motion, which passed seven votes to six.
David Williams, SC, barrister for eight of the 10 summonsed councillors (except Cr Ryan and Cr Chris Parker), said the council and Cr Davey were trying to disrupt the democratic process and that the timing of Ms Rosser’s report to the ICAC was motivated by concern for her job.
‘‘A few days before the [council] meeting is to be held she lodges her so-called public interest disclosure,’’ Mr Williams said.
A letter from the Division of Local Government to Cr Davey, dated Monday and tendered to the court, said it would not be acting on her request to reopen a previous investigation into the council.
The injunction will be in place until a further hearing on May 7.