Former Dubbo mayor Ben Shields says people trying to get him to engage with "mud slinging" won't distract him from his election campaign.
In March this year, a majority of councillors called for then-mayor Ben Shields to resign, and numerous allegations surfaced.
Mr Shields took indefinite medical leave after an attempt to take his own life, and later stepped away from council to focus on his mental health after being hospitalised for a number of weeks in April.
However, Mr Shields announced his plan to return, contesting the December 4 council elections alongside a team of candidates in each of the wards, who are registered with the NSW Electoral Commission under The Ben Shields Team.
Current mayor and former deputy, Stephen Lawrence has taken to Facebook to air a series of allegations about community members who claim they were treated inappropriately by Mr Shields, claims which Mr Shields emphatically deny.
"It's absolutely crucial that all the voters in that election know all the allegations against Ben Shields," Cr Lawrence told local media.
Cr Lawrence is not contesting the election. However, Cr Lawrence says when Mr Shields announced he would run again, he felt he needed to raise the allegations before the election.
"It's my view that you as voters, and our community has a right to know this information," he said.
"I also think it's time our community has a fresh start that we move on from the drama, controversy...that has been part of our local picture since March of this year.
"I certainly had an association with him.
"I said publicly at the time he was elected mayor, that my desire was for a functional council that could achieve good things and Ben Shields spent a good proportion of the last four years campaigning for a rehab centre and drug court that I got elected to council to achieve.
"I wanted a council united behind good policy objectives."
But Cr Lawrence said that when he became aware of the scope of allegations against Mr Shields, he acted.
Mr Shields has engaged defamation specialists Mark O'Brien Legal, however Cr Lawrence said the prospect of legal action wouldn't stop him from airing the allegations.
"I have not so much [as] received a legal letter from Ben Shields, and I have been raising these allegations in one way shape or form since March of this year," he said, adding that as a public official, he felt committed to raise such matters in the public interest.
Among the allegations aired on social media by Cr Lawrence, were claims Mr Shields "bullied, harassed, intimidated the media for years".
In one allegation, Cr Lawrence said the former mayor had rang Lynn Rayner - the editor of the Daily Liberal - saying if newspaper coverage of him didn't improve after a coverage of a matter relating to councillors' pay, her husband Mark Rayner would no longer have a job as community support officer at the council.
Cr Lawrence said the former chief executive officer Michael McMahon then "stonewalled" and refused a meeting with Mrs Rayner who attempted to make a complaint.
It's believed the complaint was forwarded to Mr Shields, as Mr Rayner was allegedly taken into his office and told that his position at council would not be viable if his wife made a code of conduct complaint.
The complaint was later dismissed by the former CEO.
Mr Shields said to his knowledge "no complaints were made against me from the Rayners".
"I always had a good relationship with Mark Rayner and his family," he said.
"He was my right hand-man on staff and worked very hard for council. In fact it was only after I left council did Mark leave."
Another such allegation raised by Cr Lawrence was Mr Shields threatened legal action and swore at Dubbo resident Steve Hodder, after he wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the PhotoNews critical of the mayor in relation to the River Street bridge project.
Mr Shields told the Daily Liberal at "no stage did I swear or threaten him".
"Mayors don't have the power to sue people for defamation using ratepayers' funds," he said.
"Mr Hodder's statement is plain outright wrong and offensive."
Mr Lawrence said the former mayor also left a Wellington woman feeling "absolutely distraught" after complaining to her employer, when she denied him access to a closed Facebook group.
In early January 2020, Mr Shields made three attempts to join the You Know You From Wellington If group, when he was denied by the page administrators.
In screenshots obtained by the Daily Liberal, Mr Shields messaged one of the admins of the group, Karen Sloane, on Facebook asking for her postal address, and telling her he would be forwarding their messages to his legal department.
In an email sent to Ms Sloane's employer - a federal government department - Mr Shields accuses her of running an "online campaign" against him.
He believed Mrs Sloane, a former Wellington council employee, had issues with him after the Wellington and Dubbo City councils amalgamated in 2016.
"Mrs Sloane has a current significant job within your government department. I believe it is highly inappropriate for Mrs Sloane to be continuing issues against her former employers. Indeed, I wasn't even on or part of Wellington Council when Mrs Sloane was an employee," Mr Shields wrote in the email he signed off as mayor.
Mr Shields said he had requested to join the group as there had been a number of posts that were "blasting council", and claimed as mayor it was his role was to be a spokesperson for council.
"A number of people in the posts were requesting my answers," Mr Shields said.
"As there are a number of people on the page - including Dubbo-based councillors that have never lived in Wellington - I thought I would join so I could set the record straight."
Mr Shields confirmed he sent the email and said he made the complaint when he was made aware Mrs Sloane was posting "extremely derogatory remarks" about his appearance on her personal page.
As there are a number of people on the page - including Dubbo-based councillors that have never lived in Wellington - I thought I would join so I could set the record straightBen Shields
"It was clear that allowing some councillors on the page, yet banning me was poor form," he said.
"As such, I made a complaint - especially when Mrs Sloane started to get very personal in her attacks."
In a message to Mr Shields, Mrs Sloan explainedthe admin team in consultation with a number of members had declined Mr Shield's request to join, and told him it was because he was not from Wellington.
"This group of approximately 5600 members (2500 of whom are active) is an incredible resource, much loved and respected by folks with direct links to 2820," the message read.
"Being mayor does not give you that link.
"If, in your role as mayor, you want to access this community, I respectfully and strongly suggest you take this up with council's social media manager and develop a social media asset that meets that specific need.
She continued to explain admins of the group monitored the page. She highlighted it was not a political page, and there was risk it would lead to defamatory content they could not monitor.
"The admin team have taken a strong stance on any perceived "council bashing", which is neither permitted or tolerated. Offenders are either banned or blocked, depending on the severity of their comments or behaviour," she said in the message.
"The admin team cannot risk diminishing the integrity of this group by allowing you, simply by value of your role as mayor, to become a member. Without a doubt, anything you post will inevitably deteriorate into a Council bashing tirade and neither myself or the others in the admin team have the time, energy or resources to mediate the outcomes.
"As a volunteer admin for this group, I spend many hours each week refereeing disagreements, supporting locals in need and being a conduit for those members who have no other opportunity to have their voices heard.
"This group is almost five years old, and with the support of the admin team and a number of wonderful community members, has evolved into this amazing, tangible entity that is free from political influence or commentary."
Since the issue Mrs Sloane said she had submitted a formal complaint against Mr Shields, which was still being investigated.
"The mayor and I have never met. I had not engaged in any social media campaign, I was trying to maintain the integrity of our community group," she told the Daily Liberal.
Mr Shields remains confident and continues to deny any wrongdoing in the allegations made.
The former mayor said it was March when the "torrent of allegations" were made against him, and said said not one government department, the police, ICAC or the private investigator - Pinnacle Integrity, who investigated the handling of code of conduct complaints at council - had interviewed him.
"There wouldn't be a mayor in the history of Australia that hasn't had conflict or had to make hard decisions that some people don't like," he said.
"No one should be surprised that I have made enemies in my nearly 22 years of being a councillor.
"In order to get things done you occasionally need to step on people's toes.
"I am a believer in free speech, but when deliberately wrong accusations are made that are so nasty and soul destroying, I have no option other than to defend my reputation through the courts."
Cr Lawrence said he has not received any legal correspondence from Mr Shields.
- Lifeline 13 11 14
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