FIRST it was who is Scott Neylon?
Now there is a further twist in the letter to the editor writing controversy after City of Newcastle boss Jeremy Bath's mate has been linked to another pro-council Newcastle Herald letter writer.
An ongoing investigation can reveal that the two letter writers used the same Optus mobile phone number in different submissions to the Herald's opinion page around the same time.
So the question is now: who is Jason Sivo and what are his links to Mr Neylon?
The Herald has tried unsuccessfully to contact Mr Sivo, who listed his suburb as Waratah, by phone and email.
A search could find no record of him living in the region. As Mr Sivo's letter from January 2020 was never published, it did not need to be verified.
Oddly, the Optus mobile number used by Mr Sivo was provided a few months earlier by Mr Neylon when he submitted letters to the editor in mid-October and late-August 2019.
According to Optus and the Australian Communications and Media Authority, telcos hold disused mobile phone numbers in quarantine for at least six months after they are disconnected, some are held for up to 12 months.
This means the phone number could not have been passed from Mr Neylon to Mr Sivo in the less than four months between their letter submissions.
The current owner of the phone number told the Herald this week he does not know either of the men.
Mr Neylon has lived in Japan for at least 25 years, is close friends with Mr Bath and lists his Australian address as Mr Bath's Lake Macquarie home.
In 18 letters to the Herald, five of which were published over nine years, the 47-year-old has provided a host of fake addresses, regularly misspells his surname and is prone to twisting the truth and distorting reality to strengthen his arguments.
Mr Neylon said via email last week that Mr Bath had never asked him to write letters and the council boss has denied any involvement in the letter-writing campaign.
The Herald asked Mr Neylon on Thursday if he knew Mr Sivo and did not receive a response.
Using the same mobile number is not the only link between the long-term Australian expat and Mr Sivo.
Both men are defenders of council and supporters of the Newcastle V8 Supercars race.
Penning letters late at night and spelling the word council with a capital C are other similarities between the pair.
The Neylon-Sivo parallels don't stop there. Dislike of Independent councillor John Church, who is a long-term critic of Mr Bath and Labor lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes' administration, is another thing the letter writers have in common.
In his January 2020 letter, Mr Sivo writes to express his disappointment about Cr Church's stance against a City of Newcastle planning workshop at a luxury Port Stephens resort.
The Herald reported at the time that Cr Church and three other independent councillors argued the workshop at The Anchorage, owned by the Wests Group, and described as "Hamptons-chic luxury", was a waste of ratepayers' money when the council had spent tens of millions of dollars on new offices in Newcastle West and restoring City Hall, both of which would be free and more suitable for the workshop.
The workshop boycott came a year after council held a similar overnight get-together in 2019 at Shoal Bay Country Club. That weekend was marred when the words "John Church f---wit" appeared on a screen in front of councillors at the start of the Saturday morning session.
Cr Church, who had criticised the cost of that year's workshop in a Herald report that day, called unsuccessfully for an investigation into the incident.
His stance against holding the 2020 conference in Port Stephens was what prompted Mr Sivo to write his only letter to the Herald, describing the boycott as "ironically a bit rich".
"That's because I was fortunate enough to watch the Supercars last November in a corporate box courtesy of my employer," he wrote.
"While lining up for a drink, I struck up a conversation with a man who was attending in the adjacent suite. He pointed to John Church, and told me he and two of his friends had Cr Church to thank for the free tickets to the council corporate box."
He then went on to make a detailed cost comparison between the Supercars' corporate tickets and the council workshop.
"Today I asked my boss what each ticket in the corporate box cost. He told me $594.55," it reads.
"So it appears John Church has no issue spending $2378.20 of ratepayers' money living it up with his mates at Supercars, while claiming to be outraged about council spending $300 for a night's accommodation for a strategic planning workshop in Port Stephens.
"C'mon John Church, don't take us for fools."
Cr Church told the Herald this week he understood the tickets were supplied to council under its agreement with Supercars and he went along with three ratepayers to experience the race, which he now believes should be held somewhere else due to its impact on inner-city businesses and residents.
A few months before the Herald received Mr Sivo's letter, when Mr Neylon was using the same mobile phone number, the expat made the first of several mentions in his letters about the Supercars.
In a broadside launched at former NBN newsreader Ray Dinneen, Mr Neylon described him as "auditioning to take over from that other grumpy old man, [Herald] columnist Paul Scott".
"Or maybe it's just relevance deprivation syndrome. How else do you explain Ray hating on garbage trucks collecting garbage, Supercars, light rail, the university's city campus, cyclists, to name but a few," he wrote in the letter the Herald chose not to publish at the time.
"Ray, please challenge yourself to find some positivity in our city. We have so much to be grateful for."
It was sometime later, in mid-2021, that Mr Neylon turned his attention to Cr Church.
"I often wonder why the Herald continues to give such prominence to the residents of the East End. They never have anything good to say about our beautiful city and now it appears they have resorted to sulking about the Lord Mayor not supporting their complaint," he wrote.
"As for John Church, I can't say I'm surprised he's supporting their complaint. If there is a minority group whinging about something in Newcastle, you can be sure John will be there supporting them. My wife calls him Mr Consistent."
It was reported last week that a series of social media posts that linked Mr Neylon and Mr Bath had been deleted after the Herald started asking questions about the letter-writing campaign.
A glowing reference from Mr Bath lauding his friend's "honesty" and "dedication" disappeared from both men's LinkedIn profiles.
The recommendation was posted by Mr Bath from his official City of Newcastle chief executive LinkedIn page almost three years ago in September, 2020, and disappeared this month.
As pressure mounted on Mr Bath to explain his relationship with Mr Neylon, the council boss' LinkedIn profile also mysteriously disappeared, along with the shining testimonial.
Mr Bath's LinkedIn profile reappeared the day after the Herald asked why it could not be found, but the recommendation promoting Mr Neylon was gone.
"I'm not aware of any issue with my LinkedIn profile," Mr Bath said. "I've checked it and it's active."
Mr Bath denied any knowledge of the recommendation for Mr Neylon being removed.
It is not the only social media post to disappear.
Mr Neylon initially removed his most recent Facebook posts, which detailed his life in Japan as an English teacher and several posts that included comments from Mr Bath's wife.
He has now publicly removed all but one Facebook post, which shows a picture of Koshigoe Harbour, in Japan, and includes the comment "nice detective work".
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