Coffs GM resigns

COFFS Harbour City Council is in the throes of an extraordinary shake-up.

At its heart is believed to be councillors debating a settlement package that will ultimately result in the departure of general manager Stephen Sawtell, just eight months into his second four year term at the helm.

A hastily convened and strictly confidential meeting called by the mayor, Cr Keith Rhoades, on Thursday evening kick-started a stunning 24 hours in local government.

At that meeting in the mayor’s office were all the city’s councillors and one council staff member who served in an advisory capacity.

The only item on the agenda was the terms relating to the resignation of the general manager – believed to have been handed in earlier that day.

The discussions went for roughly 90 minutes.

Councillors returned home Thursday to find an envelope marked ‘confidential’ waiting for them.

It is believed to have contained information about Mr Sawtell’s terms for departure which is what council is currently debating and intend to resolve at another (closed) meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

Mr Sawtell opted to make no comment on the meeting or the resignation yesterday.

The mayor was similarly reticent.

Cr Rhoades said he couldn’t comment on the issues discussed but said he had followed due process as stipulated by the Local Government Act.

Mark Graham has been the only councillor to comment on Thursday night’s meeting.

“I cannot disclose the nature of those issues due to their sensitivity and for confidentiality reasons,” Cr Graham said.

“But having taken independent legal advice I must say I have no confidence in the handling of this matter.

“I am writing a letter to the Local Government Association calling for a thorough and independent inquiry into the matter and believe the issues need to be addressed in the most transparent way possible.”

Plenty of mystery still surrounds the facts behind Mr Sawtell’s departure and the rumour mill was in full swing yesterday.

Calls to the Local Government Minister’s office did not reveal any further insight with a spokeswoman saying only that she would make no comment upon being presented with some of the details reportedly discussed at the confidential meeting.

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