Council, gallery call in lawyers

THE fractured relationship between Newcastle City Council and the Newcastle Art Gallery Foundation board continues to deteriorate, with both sides calling in lawyers as a result of lord mayor Jeff McCloy’s plans to change the board’s composition.

The board of the foundation is due to meet tonight, two weeks after Cr McCloy moved to have Labor councillor Jason Dunn dumped in favour of Liberal Lisa Tierney. 

In a move that could lead to fireworks at the meeting, the Newcastle Herald can reveal the chairman of the foundation board, Rob Henderson, last week wrote to the lord mayor warning him the foundation had obtained ‘‘a senior barrister’s opinion’’ on the matter.

The Herald has obtained a copy of the letter, which states the foundation had been given ‘‘unequivocal advice’’ the appointment of Cr Tierney was invalid.

It also argues the lord mayor does ‘‘not have the power to make the appointment under the local government act’’.

‘‘Therefore, the foundation has no choice but to continue to acknowledge Cr Dunn’s appointment as council’s corporate representative until a further resolution is passed,’’ the letter stated.

The move has again flared tempers between the two camps and prompted Cr McCloy to hit back at Dr Henderson yesterday, stating the council’s  legal representatives had confirmed the move’s validity.

In a council report published on Friday, the general manager Ken Gouldthorp wrote Cr McCloy had ‘‘satisfied the appointment requirements in the foundation’s constitution by providing the notice in writing in the format set out in the constitution’’.

Earlier this month the Herald revealed Cr McCloy was angling to have both Cr Dunn and Dr Henderson replaced on the board.

He said he would push ahead with his plan to replace Cr Dunn, who is due to return from a fortnight’s holiday today, just in time for the meeting. 

Cr McCloy also criticised the foundation board’s performance.

‘‘It’s absurd, the board is supposed to be assisting council, and here it is attacking at every opportunity.

‘‘I find their behaviour appalling,’’ he said.

‘‘They’ve got 100-odd members acting as if they own the art gallery and the art when it belongs to Newcastle, their behaviour is dreadful.’’

Cr Tierney showed up at the meeting on November 12, and resolutions had to be put on hold as both sides argued over whether or not  she had a right to a vote.

Cr Tierney did not return phone calls yesterday, but Dr Henderson told the Herald he did not know what would happen if she attended tonight’s meeting.

‘‘I have no idea, he [Cr McCloy] has played all the tricks in the book [but] we haven’t invited her and she doesn’t have an agenda,’’ he said.

 Former lord mayor John Tate weighed into the debate by saying that if Cr McCloy and Mr Gouldthorp were saying Cr Dunn had been improperly appointed, then the same probably applied to every previous appointee.

He said council nominees to other committees may be on similarly questionable grounds.

The relationship between the council and the foundation board is at an all-time low after the gallery’s director Ron Ramsey was stood down by the council last week, a move Dr Henderson has  opposed.

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