Three councillors standing for re-election in Ballarat in October have requested clarification around a Freedom of Information leak from the City of Ballarat to local weekly The Ballarat Times.
The leak was referred to in a series of texts from Times' editor Alistair Finlay to Cr Samantha McIntosh, after he mistakenly messaged her on September 19, saying The Ballarat Times was 'working hard to crush her'.
Mr Finlay, who has since been stood down without pay, said the FOI documents were going to be used by The Courier 'to put the screws on' Cr McIntosh, and in a later conversation with Cr McIntosh said The Courier had been directed to pursue the FOI on expenses by a former council director and a sitting councillor.
We are concerned ... that people might construe that the councillor involved in the leaking was one - or all - of usCr Grant Tillett
The Courier rejects that assertion outright.
North Ward Cr Grant Tillett, on behalf of Crs McIntosh and Jim Rinaldi, has written to The Courier denying the leak came from any of the three councillors.
"We are concerned that under the current circumstances - that people might construe that the councillor involved in the leaking was one - or all - of us," Cr Tillett wrote.
"We think that is unfair. It is definitely not true and we believe you are well aware of the truth. We believe substantial clarification in your paper is necessary to secure our innocence in this matter and determine truth, accuracy and fairness in the reporting."
The Courier can confirm a City of Ballarat investigation into how its FOI application was leaked from council to a rival newspaper is underway.
The original application for examination of councillor expenses was made by The Courier on August 20, and the documents were received by this journalist on September 21 at 5.16pm.
In the texts made to Cr McIntosh, it is clear from timestamps Mr Finlay also had possession of the documents on September 21 at the latest.
It is unclear when councillors were made aware of the FOI request, although The Courier understands it may not have been until the morning of September 22.
A source within council told The Courier FOI applications are ' heavily protected', with just a 'handful of senior officers' knowing what was coming in and what had been approved for release.
In other news, interim CEO Janet Dore has written to Cr McIntosh rejecting a claim CoB did not deal with a claim of bullying at council in the run up to the last mayoral election. The claim, seen by The Courier last year, was rejected as it was not made under the Councillor Code of Conduct, Ms Dore said.
Cr McIntosh said she was still expecting an apology from council over the matter.