GYMPIE Regional Council has become a state election issue, with Katter's Australian Party calling for an inquiry into alleged "secrecy and bullying".
KAP Gympie candidate Shane Paulger wants an inquiry into "the use of private investigators and solicitors to interview, monitor or maintain surveillance of council employees and councillors, any claims of harassment, surveillance or bullying or other inappropriate workplace behaviours" and "whether political activities are adequately separated from administrative functions".
"I'm calling for this inquiry because there are serious problems in council," Mr Paulger said.
"From what I've seen and heard it's sick, possibly terminal.
"Staff feel threatened and bullied. These are good people, public servants, who are being used as political pawns.
"Ratepayers of Gympie cannot afford to lose skilled and experienced staff because of bullying, nor can council afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on big city lawyers and private investigators.
"And what's worse, big questions are being raised about nepotism and cronyism - all that 'jobs for the boys' stuff.
"I will not stand by and let council employees get bullied and intimidated.
"This inquiry will shine a light into some dark corners," he said.
Former acting mayor and Mr Paulger's LNP rival at Saturday's state election, Tony Perrett yesterday declined to comment, in line with an earlier explanation that he was required to step aside from his councillor role during his state election campaign.
Acting Mayor Rae Gate strongly denied the claims and accused Mr Paulger of "making false and unsubstantiated statements for political gain.
"The statements made by Mr Paulger against all councillors and staff have no factual basis.
"Any resident can report concerns along with evidence to the Minister for Local Government, the CCC, or Ombudsman," she said.
"What is most concerning is a State Election candidate making false and unsubstantiated statements for their own political gain."
She said the council "has not engaged private investigators, has not spent six figure sums on lawyers and has not undertaken any surveillance whatsoever".
Her comment appears partly to contradict CEO Bernard Smith's statement last week that the council had employed Ashdale Workplace Solutions "to investigate a very serious staff matter", which had been "initiated by a complaint to the then CMC and was also referred to the Queensland Police Service".
'Fines for speaking out' claim
A GYMPIE councillor says fines of more than $11,000 have hampered the ventilation of real concerns about council management.
Cr Ian Petersen says council CEO Bernard Smith reminded him of the fines in a recent email, "at the start of the election campaign".
"I have for some time fought against (matters which) I believe (have) cost council and community many years of corporate knowledge, local knowledge and dedication," Cr Petersen said.
"Unfortunately it has been a one-sided battle.
"I have had one hand tied behind my back by the councillor code of conduct and the Local Government Act, which prohibits the use of information obtained as a councillor, under pain of 100 penalty points (at $113.85 each) or two years (jail).
"I was reminded of this in an email from the CEO at the start of the election campaign," he said.
Cr Petersen said staff restructures had taken place without enough input from elected councillors, despite a Local Government Act requirement "that the corporate structure of council is the responsibility of the elected representatives".
"Untimely (staff) departures and the implementation of the 'dob in hotline' have resulted in the collapse of morale, a situation which must be reversed as a matter of urgency.
"Staff productivity is directly related to staff morale and the current situation is costing the community dearly," he said.
Acting mayor Rae Gate and Cr Petersen's rival in the mayor election, Cr Mick Curran have denied claims of a "toxic" work atmosphere in the council.
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