Call for inquiry into Cessnock council

LOCAL Government Minister Don Page has been called on to intervene in a Cessnock City Council feud, after councillors were threatened with more legal action this week.

Greens councillors James Ryan and Chris Parker and NSW Greens local government spokesman David Shoebridge say the rift between the council's administration and elected representatives is deepening and is costing ratepayers thousands of dollars in legal bills.

The conflict, which stems from criticism of the performance of general manager Lea Rosser and allegations Ms Rosser took to ICAC about the conduct of some councillors, is set for another round of hearings in the Supreme Court on May 28.

Mayor Alison Davey initiated the Supreme Court action in March.

This week, law firm Sparke Helmore, on behalf of Cessnock council, sent a letter to eight of the councillors involved in the Supreme Court hearings. It called on them to give an undertaking not to act on a recent notice of motion that would mean the council would fund their legal expenses.

The letter also informed the councillors that a council resolution from its May 2 meeting, to have Hunter Councils chairman (and barrister) Martin Rush step in as an independent adviser, was invalid.

A spokeswoman for Mr Page's office said it would be inappropriate to comment because matters involving the council were before the Supreme Court.

Both Cr Davey and Ms Rosser declined to comment.

Cr Ryan described the latest legal action as "sheer madness".

"Council is off the rails. This is the third set of legal proceedings instigated against a majority of councillors," Cr Ryan said.

"The council is spending ratepayers' money taking councillors to court to avoid implementing a majority decision to consider the general manager's future."

Mr Shoebridge said the wrangle between councillors and the council had gone on for too long.

"It's time for Mr Page to launch an urgent investigation," he said.

"This could cost ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses using ratepayers' money to fight internal political battles.

"If Mr Page fails to act, the Greens will be bringing this matter to NSW Parliament when it resumes next week."

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