CEO accused of misleading Gympie council

A Gympie regional councillor has accused CEO Bernard Smith of misleading councillors and has himself been accused of running a 'vendetta'
A Gympie regional councillor has accused CEO Bernard Smith of misleading councillors and has himself been accused of running a 'vendetta' Hienee Pilcher

ALL but two Gympie region councillors have voted to keep themselves in the dark on an alleged million-dollar-plus purge of top council staff since 2012.

The vote followed a claim CEO Bernard Smith misled councillors on the issue last month.

Cr Wayne Sachs accused his colleague Ian Petersen of running a "vendetta" against Mr Smith and said the public interest would not be served by any revelation of the extent of confidential payouts for former employees, as sought by Cr Petersen.

Cr Petersen said councillors were neglecting their duty if they did not inform themselves and perform "prudent financial management."

He referred to the Willan Inquiry into Port Macquarie-Hastings council in 2008, when Mr Smith was its general manager.

It led to the dismissal of all councillors for inadequate cost supervision, being "misled," failing "to demand staff provide information," accepting "a very restricted view of (their) role" and not showing "prudent management."

Commissioner Willan said Port Macquarie-Hastings councillors had "demonstrated little interest in obtaining information regarding issues being dealt with by the group and did not attempt to seek out this information.

"Councillors were misled (on financial issues). The elected body did not demand staff provide support information to make a considered decision.

"Council, represented by both the councillors and staff failed to demonstrate adequate diligence when dealing with the financial management of the project... failed to impose adequate financial controls and excused their failures on the basis that financial issues were 'operational issues' falling outside their role."

Cr Petersen said Gympie councillors who did not keep abreast of financial matters were "at great risk."

"We cannot be expected to take responsibility when we have information withheld or are fed misleading information," he said.

"These confidentiality agreements are not between the ex-employee and the CEO. They are between the ex-employee and the council. Legally we are party to those agreements.

"We are at great risk if we are oblivious to their contents. But even more importantly, we are not fulfilling our obligation to our community if we fail to oversight governance and financial matters. Ignorance is no excuse.

"If we do not have sufficient information we are required to seek it. This is imperative if we are to discharge our obligations under the Local Government Act.

"I am aware of people who have left the council service, under agreements involving confidentiality and ex gratia severance payments.

"You can play semantics all you want," he said.

Cr Sachs said he was concerned at "a hidden agenda".

"It's a vendetta against the CEO," he said.

Mayor Mick Curran told Cr Petersen he had "recourse" if he felt the council had been misled and Cr Petersen said: "Yes, and I'm taking it."

Asked after the meeting if this would involve a complaint to the Local Government Department, Cr Petersen said he did not think he could comment.

Seconding Cr Petersen's motion, Deputy Mayor Larry Friske said councillors had to take responsibility.

"You can talk about operational and policy matters until you are blue in the face, but councillors are responsible for governance and finance," he said.

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