A MESSY legal battle between Armidale Regional Council (ARC), its chief executive Susan Law, and five councillors has been dismissed.
The council and Ms Law were ordered to pay the legal costs of the five councillors on Tuesday, after the council had launched the legal action to stop the councillors terminating the CEO's contract.
NSW Land and Environment Court Judge Brian Preston ruled ARC and Ms Law had failed to prove that the councillors would force ARC to deny Ms Law procedural fairness if it terminated her contract.
The five councillors said in a joint statement today that the judgement confirmed they were merely doing their duty in raising concerns about the performance of both council and the CEO and in fact it would have been remiss of them not to do so.
"Now is the time for rebuilding. We are committed to working with the Administrator Mr Viv May for a fresh beginning for the Armidale Regional community" they said.
The councillors also said they wanted those responsible to be held accountable for this "monumental waste of council funds".
"The case was totally unnecessary. The result should be a huge embarrassment to the CEO Susan Law and suspended Mayor Cr Simon Murray.
"If Cr Murray had listened to our concerns, all this could have all been avoided."
Judge Preston argued councillors Margaret O'Connor, Jon Galletly, Debra O'Brien, Dorothy Robinson and Ian Tiley were merely doing their job by raising matters where they felt the performance of the council and general manager fell short.
"One would have envisaged, with the argument expressed in this way, that the respondent in the proceedings would have been the council, being the person who threatens to deny Ms Law procedural fairness and thereby breach the Act," Judge Preston said.
"But reality in this topsy turvy case is like the world imagined by Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 'nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't'."
Judge Preston dismissed the argument that the council would be forced to breach the Act if the councillors moved a motion to debate and vote on firing Ms Law.
He also dismissed the idea that Ms Law could not, or had not, been given a fair opportunity to have her voice heard on a decision to remove her as general manager.
"One would have thought that the appropriate remedy for such a threatened breach by the council would have been for the council itself to give Ms Law a fair opportunity to be heard, that is to say to remedy the breach, rather than seek a declaration that the council will be in breach by continuing to fail to provide Ms Law a fair opportunity to be heard," he said.
"But this is yet another illustration of the 'curiouser and curiouser' nature of this case."
That meeting did not go ahead because ARC and Ms Law sought an injunction in the NSW Land and Environment Court to temporarily restrain the councillors from attending and voting.
It was adjourned until June 10 and will return to the council on Thursday.
Since then, Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock has dismissed all 11 councillors and appointed administrator Viv May, after she felt it was unable to conduct civic business as a result of the contentious legal proceedings.
The court heard that ARC was the driving force in the legal proceedings and that Ms Law had merely "adopted and followed the council's case and its running of the case".