Gympie council spent $55,000 targeting planning director

GYMPIE Regional Council spent about $55,000 on internally investigating its then-planning director Michael Hartley.
GYMPIE Regional Council spent about $55,000 on internally investigating its then-planning director Michael Hartley. Hienee Pilcher

GYMPIE Regional Council spent about $55,000 on internally investigating its then-planning director Michael Hartley, who was acquitted of fraud in Gympie Magistrates Court on Friday.

But it was not a 'witch-hunt', Mayor Mick Curran said in his Mary St office on Monday.

"Yes, it was," says Mr Hartley and his strongest supporter, planning portfolio councillor Ian Petersen.

The criminal charges dismissed in the court on Friday involved council funds totalling $2178.67.

CEO Bernard Smith confirmed on Monday private investigators Ashdale Workplace Solutions gathered evidence against Mr Hartley at a cost of about $25,000.

Legal advisers Minter Ellison assessed the evidence at a cost of about $30,000.

"It hasn't started as a witch-hunt," Cr Curran said Monday.

Mr Hartley told councillors early in the episode, in 2014, the matter was "a witch-hunt against me by the chief executive officer".

Cr Petersen agreed. "It all started when the CEO made a unilateral decision to terminate Jill Promnitz," he said.

"Michael suggested due process hadn't been followed.

"This was confirmed by the industrial court, which found Ms Promnitz had been unlawfully dismissed.

"From that point on he became the target of a witch-hunt with a long running internal investigation (followed by the police investigation), driven by the CEO without reference to council."

Cr Curran said the matter began with a complaint to the Crime and Misconduct Commission by a person not the CEO.

"Subsequently three parties, (the CMC, council and police) had to deal with the matter in accordance with strict legal and procedural requirements.

"The matter was ultimately referred to the QPS who brought charges on the basis of the information it had before it.

"Our judicial system then made a determination," the Mayor said.

"A key outcome for council is that it has changed its processes with regard to corporate credit cards and the authorisation of charges as a result of this matter, a point which was noted by the magistrate during the trial.

"Charges were brought by the Crown and I would doubt they would appeal the matter.

"The QPS was obviously confident of a prosecution otherwise the charges would not have been laid.

"Council was not a part of the trial and incurred no costs," he said.

"The most important thing for all parties is that it is now concluded."

Cr Petersen said the matter was seriously mishandled and Mr Hartley and his family had endured "18 months of absolute hell, while forced to spend a huge sum, probably up to six figures, to defend his impeccable record."

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