A LEGAL document obtained by Australian Community Media has revealed Armidale Regional councillors made a request to the Office of Local Government (OLG) for investigation months before it fell apart in a public legal battle.
The "topsy turvy" court case to try to stop now suspended councillors Margaret O'Connor, Debra O'Brien, Jon Galletly, Ian Tiley and Dorothy Robinson from sacking former chief executive Susan Law was dismissed.
An affidavit written by Ms O'Brien includes a letter of complaint sent to OLG deputy secretary Tim Hurst in November 2019 which claims councillors were deliberately removed from the chief executive's performance review panel to protect Ms Law.
In the letter, Ms O'Brien claims that without their knowledge or consent, councillors received an email from mayor Simon Murray to tell them that 3000 pages worth of "email correspondence of concern" had been sent to the council's lawyers.
Around the same time, Ms O'Connor and Ms Robinson were to sit on a panel and review the performance of Ms Law.
A late matter was added to closed council in June 2019 that included "serious allegations about Cr Robinson and Cr O'Connor" that they were "unfit to serve on the CEO Performance Review Panel" and had to be removed due to "apprehended bias", Ms O'Brien's complaint claims.
When the councillors tried to have the pair reinstated and asked to view the legal advice, they were told it was "unlawful" and even a GIPA application to view the legal advice was denied.
"From this I concluded that someone in the council had decided to get lawyers to search through more than 3000 pages of councillor emails to identify what codes of conduct could be launched against councillors and in this process, the lawyers had come up with the idea of using the bias argument against Crs Robinson and O'Connor," Ms O'Brien said.
"But no-one had ever told either of those two councillors or the rest of the councillors exactly what emails the lawyers had advised disclosed their "bias". "To me this is very wrong."
An email from the council's Governance, Risk and Corporate Planning service leader Nathalie Heaton revealed issues with councillor behaviour had cost $85,484 in just 12 months.
At least $64,659 of that spend was forked out in legal costs to review the councillors emails.
Ms O'Brien requested a formal investigation into whether proper process had been followed in the removal of the councillors from the panel and the "ongoing refusal" to provide the legal advice.
Interim administrator Viv May has since requested a public inquiry and a decision will need to be made by December 11 or what's left of the former council will be reinstated.
In his initial statement he said it appeared that some decisions of the council were not being made by meetings of the governing body and that "the CEO (and other staff) did not have the delegation to proceed in many important matters."
The OLG and Mr May refused to comment on a number of questions sent by Australian Community Media.
A spokesman for Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock said the future of the council will be informed by Mr May's final report.