Cessnock mayor attacked at home

Cessnock mayor Alison Davey says she is the target of ‘‘intimidation tactics’’ after a bizarre weekend attack on her home.

Police were called after a package of excrement was set alight on her doorstep.

The incident occurred ahead of the resumption of Supreme Court proceedings yesterday that were instigated by Cr Davey and have embroiled Cessnock City Council in a bitter dispute over corruption allegations.

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The court has heard council general manager Lea Rosser reported conduct to the state’s corruption watchdog she believes implicates some councillors, but has not publicly detailed the allegations.

In March, the mayor ordered council solicitors to take action against 10 of the 12 councillors, after only Crs Ian Olsen and Rachel Main agreed to provide written undertakings to ‘‘refrain from taking action’’ to dismiss Ms Rosser.

Cr Davey and husband Brian heard a noise at their door at 9pm on Saturday.

Flames ‘‘four feet high’’ were coming from the wrapped faeces, which she extinguished. She does not believe any councillors were involved.

The timing ahead of yesterday’s court case was ‘‘very suspicious’’ and she believed the two were linked, as was possibly a disturbance at the home of Cr Ian Olsen.

‘‘I have been involved with the council for 29 years and nothing like this has ever happened before,’’ she said.

‘‘They are intimidation tactics, but they haven’t worked.’’

Cr Olsen said his wife was home alone on Sunday evening when she heard knocking at the door, but found no one there. Loud banging on two windows began soon after.

‘‘She was in tears and called the police,’’ he said.

Cr Cordelia Burcham had lodged a confidential motion proposing Ms Rosser’s removal after prolonged absence from the council while on leave, and votes of no confidence in Ms Rosser passed by council staff.

The court granted an injunction preventing councillors from considering Ms Rosser’s future before yesterday’s hearing. The council had argued Ms Rosser made a disclosure about alleged corrupt conduct under the provisions of legislation aimed at protecting whistleblowers, and her dismissal could be considered retaliation by some councillors.

It emerged in yesterday’s proceedings that NSW Deputy Ombudsman Chris Wheeler wrote to the council’s solicitors last week to advise the Ombudsman’s office was closely following the matter and was concerned by information provided to it.

‘‘We are of the view that the evidence may show or tend to show issues of serious concern within council that require further investigation,’’ the letter said.

The office was consulting with the Division of Local Government and the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) about the issues to determine what, if any, action should be taken.

The council’s lawyers sought to have dismissed yesterday a subpoena from eight of the 10 other councillors (excluding James Ryan and Chris Parker) for correspondence between Ms Rosser, Cr Davey, and ICAC, the Division of Local Government or the NSW Ombudsman.

The council argued provision of the documents would hinder the authorities’ investigations. But David Williams, SC, barrister for the eight councillors, said they would be denied natural justice if they were unable to know the nature of the allegations, and there was no evidence a formal investigation was under way.

The court was told an ICAC official was present in court yesterday, but was not authorised to give sworn evidence.

Justice John Hislop extended the injunction until 4pm today. A full hearing could be held next month.

The council is understood to have offered before yesterday’s hearing to withdraw proceedings against Crs Ryan, Parker and Graham Smith.

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