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The Keenan files unlocked: Part two

A SUBMISSION has been filed with the Department of Public Prosecutions alleging a criminal offence was committed by four government departments when they failed to protect ex-Tweed Shire Council GM David Keenan from being sacked.

The 72-page affidavit filed last week names the Premier and Cabinet, the Division of Local Government (DLG), the NSW Ombudsman and the council.

It argues they failed to protect Mr Keenan from reprisals and also didn't report the matter to police as required under the Public Interest Disclosures Act of 1994, or the Whistleblower's Act. The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

They are furious at what they say is the lack of transparency surrounding the GM's demise on March 21 just four months after he was given an "above satisfactory" performance review.

The submission was filed on behalf of Tweed Accountability Inc (TA) comprised of nine ratepayers.

They are furious at what they say is the lack of transparency surrounding the GM's demise on March 21 just four months after he was given an "above satisfactory" performance review.

The document shows that Mr Keenan repeatedly warned the DLG that he would be sacked if he continued to follow their advice in pursuing a Code of Conduct complaint lodged against the council by Tweed developers Leda, as well as those against Crs Katie Milne and Gary Bagnall over the quarry trespass affair.

This placed the onus on the DLG to provide protection against reprisals, the submission argues.

Action should also be taken against the other government departments as they were informed by letter in August that they were in breach of the act, it is claimed. The submission also includes a copy of a six-page letter sent by the ex-GM to the Ombudsman in May complaining about the DLG's role in his axing.

The Tweed Shire Council
The Tweed Shire Council

 

Digging in deeper

In it Mr Keenan alleges the DLG provided he and Mayor Barry Longland with conflicting advice on the Leda complaint and provided poor and untimely advice on all three complaints.

The Ombudsman told Mr Keenan they would not be pursuing the matter as the DLG had advised that it did not agree with the information he had provided.

TA spokesman Colin Brooks said there had been no truly independent investigation into the GM sacking as the assessment was carried out by the DLG whose own conduct in the matter had been called into question.

The barrister, who did not want to be named, said, "When whistleblowers like Keenan are not protected against reprisal, it is a criminal offence."

Mayor Longland and the Local Government Minister said it would be inappropriate to comment about potential legal action.

EVEN at the confidential meeting in which Tweed Shire Councillors voted 4-3 to sack GM David Keenan, Mayor Barry Longland said he did not need to explain, it's claimed.
The first detailed account of what happened in two confidential meetings concerning the GM sacking surfaced this week in an affidavit provided by Cr Carolyn Byrne to Tweed Accountability's legal submission.
The ex-GM's hasty dispatch continues to confound many residents with Cr Longland refusing to publicly elaborate further on why he had to go.
Here's how Cr Byrne, who opposed the sacking, described those two meetings:


March 21 confidential council meeting

  • The mayor was asked why he had presented the Urgent Notice of Motion for the sacking and he stated that he had lost confidence in him.
  • The mayor was asked to give examples of his concerns and he stated words to the effect, it has been ongoing for over 12 months and he did not need to give any reasons.
  • Cr Bagnall stated words to the effect, I have sacked a lot of people and it is no big deal.
  • Cr Milne uncharacteristically had little to say.
  • The mayor stated that mediation was not an option and that Keenan had to go to fix the problem. No examples of the GM actions or omissions or any of the mayor's concerns were tabled at the meeting.

Second confidential meeting

At a private meeting on April 30 that the DLG instructed the mayor hold, here are some of the reasons he gave, according to Cr Byrne: 

  •  Within a week of starting in the role the GM had made inquiries about staff rostered days off. He did not agree with the meeting procedures and wanted to include reports by exception - Richmond-Tweed Regional Library suggesting that Tweed should not be part of the model as it was broken - Keenan did not like the Destination Tweed model and put a report forward to council to change; the mayor said that this was the most biased report he had ever in all his experience seen come to council
    Rally against the sacking of council GM.
    Rally against the sacking of council GM. John Gass
  •  How Keenan dealt with the quarry code of conduct complaint against Crs Milne and Bagnall. He had, "in a sense martyred Gary and Katie and that was not right."
  • The DLG told the mayor that since Keenan had been in the job, there had been far too much use of the code of conduct matters ... it was far too high and way above the average - Restructuring - Keenan did a staff survey and the substance of it was to inform his opinion about the restructuring, got here in April and survey was conducted around June or July so he virtually got here the staff had this restructuring hanging over them and he had refused to tell the mayor how
  • Officers were only offered one-year contracts.
  • The Leda issue: Keenan sacked (Stephen) Blackadder (Sydney-based local government specialist) without letting me know, and then when the mayor was away in Vietnam he found out that he had appointed lawyers to investigate the matter and that was wrong - It was a matter of trust, the mayor stated he did not trust Crs Polglase, Youngblutt and Byrne and therefore had refused to discuss any of these matters with us prior to the meeting of March 21, at that meeting or since
  • The meeting and the explanations given by the mayor was full of 'I" talk: "I told David", "I believed", "I thought that was wrong", "I believe I did the greatest good for the organisation."
  • The mayor did not give any evidence; there was no objective data of any of the points raised above, he just stated his opinion.
  • Cr Bagnall did not agree with any of the reasons that the mayor gave and instead said he voted to sack the GM based on signs being removed from his property before the election, that he voted against what Keenan had wanted for his Destination Tweed motion, and that he did not like sitting in front of an ex-copper (one of the investigators) on the Trespass Code of Conduct matter (in late 2012) and he got rid of him because he could.
  • When it was being discussed that the information was unsubstantiated and mere opinion, it was raised that it would have been opportune for all councillors to hear Keenan's view of the situations raised. The mayor stated: "There is nothing to defend about what has been said, why is it unfair? He (Keenan) signed an agreement that says we can do what we did."


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