Ballina Cr stands by refusal over leaked documents
BALLINA councillor Jeff Johnson has refused to sign a statutory declaration to confirm he had no knowledge of how confidential council figures got into the hands of a local resident.
He said the subsequent investigation into the leaking of that information was unprofessional and "showed disre- spect to the elected councillors".
Council general manager Paul Hickey started the investigation after a letter written by council-watcher Vince Kelly was published in a rival online media outlet.
It included specific information about a land swap between the council and Fire and Rescue NSW.
The information had only been discussed in a confidential session of a council meeting, with only councillors and certain staff having access to the report. Mr Hickey asked all those who had access to the information to sign statutory declarations confirming they had no knowledge of how Mr Kelly received the information.
Cr Jeff Johnson was the only one who refused to sign.
He said he refused to do so because at first only councillors, not staff, had been required to sign the legal document.
"It was inconsistent," he said. "I have confirmed in writing that I did not give the information to Mr Kelly, and my word should be enough.
"I have nothing to hide.
"I just feel like I am being tried in a kangaroo court here and I haven't even done anything wrong.
"This investigation has been handled poorly.
"I am shattered by the dysfunction that is emerging in this council."
Mr Hickey confirmed that all councillors, excluding Cr Jeff Johnson, had signed statutory declarations.
He also confirmed that he had talked to all staff who had access to the confidential report and the staff had also signed statutory declarations.
Based on these preliminary investigations, Mr Hickey confirmed he would be taking no further action.
"Mr Kelly has not responded directly to our written request asking to clarify how he obtained the information," Mr Hickey said.
"As Mr Kelly has indicated in letters to various media outlets that the information came from other sources, without providing details of those sources, we are not in a position to take any further action.
"It was important for council to conduct these very preliminary inquiries as the release of confidential information is a serious breach of the Local Government Act and can result in criminal action when proven."
Mr Hickey said no accusations had been made against any councillors or staff.
Mayor David Wright said he supported Mr Hickey in conducting these preliminary inquiries.