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Councillor Rice says council playing politics in release of confidential information

The Bugle App

Malcolm King

04 July 2024, 12:15 AM

Councillor Rice says council playing politics in release of confidential information

Green Party Councillor Kathy Rice has accused people unknown in the Kiama Council, of leaking confidential information to the media just two months before council elections.

“This matter appears to have arisen from a leak of confidential information which until that time I was appropriately excluded from. All such matters should be kept confidential, but in contrast to previous leaks Council has not expressed any concerns about this one. This information is now being widely circulated in the lead up to the Council elections,” Councillor Rice said.

“Most of the time I have been a Councillor, issues pertaining to the abattoir development application were being assessed by Council staff.” 

“As with any development I knew my responsibilities, and I took care not to be involved beyond asking a question or two when the matter arose at Council meetings.”

“Ken Sandy never asked nor expected me to intervene, because he would also have known that was inappropriate. When Ken ran for Council, it was from an unwinnable number 6 position on the ticket. As part of the team, he put his energies into assisting the campaign and he kept his private business to himself,” Councillor Rice said.

Back in 2013 when Kiama Council received a Development Authority (DA) for the building of a small abattoir on a Rose Valley Road, for a property owned by Gerhard and Maria Baden of Schottlanders Wagyu, the Baden’s neighbours, Ken and Debra Sandy complained.

“If this planning proposal is allowed,” Sandy said at the time, “we are alarmed this would set a serious and dangerous legal precedent that could allow more abattoirs or any other totally unsuitable development …”

Nine years later, an environmental impact assessment was conducted and the Baden DA was refused on environmental grounds.

On 20 September 2022, the council voted on whether the DA should proceed.

Councillor Rice and Councillor Keast declared a “less than significant non-pecuniary interest in this item.”

At the start of the meeting, both councillors declared they knew Mr Sandy and they "communicate regularly” but had a “less than significant non-pecuniary interest” in the matter.

They voted with the other seven councillors to reject the DA.

A third counsellor, Karen Renkema-Lang had allegedly failed to declare a donation from Mr Sandy at the same meeting, which triggered the ICAC referral.

During a recent Land and Environment Court hearing, Kiama Council lawyers received a document that included an email Ken Sandy sent to his legal representative in 2021, outlining tactics to "impede" the abattoir DA until after the council elections of that year.

In an email, Mr Sandy stated he was working with the Kiama Greens "to ensure we have a progressive council that are more likely to reject an abattoir DA, while the current council as you know will support it. We need to delay for two more council meetings - September and October."

His plan was to ask for information from the Health Department, Environment Protection Authority and other government bodies, "with a view to the applicant blowing a gasket."

Councillor Keast said she had always, “declared potential, perceived and actual conflicts of interest and managed these appropriately, including this particular instance in 2022. Those who know me know that I make decisions thoughtfully and always act with integrity. I welcome any oversight by the ICAC that is deemed necessary.”

Councillor Rice said she rejected any suggestion that, “I have acted inappropriately and welcome any oversight to confirm that I maintain my commitment to improving governance and transparency in decision making on Kiama Council.”