Kelly Burke June 15, 2012
Contaminated ... Coxs Road development process. Photo: Anthony Johnson
A LOCAL council is standing firm against threats by a developer to sue for defamation over a sham letter-writing campaign.
Ryde Council was given until close of business on Tuesday to retract a memo sent by its environment and planning manager, Dominic Johnson, which informed councillors it was investigating attempts to contaminate the public consultation process for the multimillion-dollar redevelopment of a shopping strip in Coxs Road in Ryde.
A local employment agency run by the Salvation Army was authorised to offer $15 an hour to people willing to write letters in favour of the developers' proposal, which is two storeys higher than a competing proposal put forward by the council. The developer, Norm Cerreto, has denied any involvement.
The memo informed Ryde's councillors that the general manager, John Neish, would be formally writing to the landowners and instructing them ''to desist from such inappropriate activity or risk fatally contaminating the process''.
The council also would review all submissions to ensure they were legitimate and report the matter to the corruption watchdog, the memo said.
Within several hours of the memo being received by councillors, Mr Neish was served with a legal notice by Mahony Taren lawyers, acting for the developer, Mr Cerreto.
''Unless we have received from you by 4.30pm this afternoon written confirmation that Mr Johnson's email to councillors will be retracted in full … we will commence immediate defamation proceedings against Mr Johnson,'' the letter said. It also said an injunction would be sought in the Supreme Court restraining further action.
Mr Neish told the Herald yesterday he would not be retracting Mr Johnson's memo. ''I stand by what was written,'' he said. ''I'm obligated to report this to ICAC and we'll be doing that.''
Mr Neish said discussions with the Salvation Army's Joblink office in Minchinbury had revealed several clients had taken up the letter-writing offer, which came with 50 template letters attached, all praising the landowners' master plan for the Coxs Road redevelopment.