‘No coincidence’: Gympie mayor cleared of misconduct
AN EXTRAORDINARY 36-page investigation into Gympie Mayor Glen Hartwig has cleared the councillor of misconduct over a complaint with an "almost inescapable" connection to his mayoral aspirations.
Mr Hartwig was accused of breaching the State's Councillor Code of Conduct by an anonymous complainant following a letter to The Gympie Times published on August 10 last year.
In the letter Mr Hartwig accused Gympie Regional Council's leadership of multiple failures of transparency over the controversial exit of Bob Fredman as head of engineering and the non-release of the Rattler report, and of stifling internal concerns about integrity issues.
The subsequent Councillor Conduct Tribunal report, redacted and released to The Gympie Times following councillors' approval, found Mr Hartwig's comments in the letter undermined mayor Mick Curran, CEO Bernard Smith and the council itself, but were not "unnecessary or irrelevant" and were in the public interest.
CCT member Peter Black noted it was no coincidence the complaint was lodged after Mr Hartwig announced his mayoral candidacy and, given the extensive volume of letters he had written that were critical of the council, the complaint's timing was "more than curious" and a direct link to his campaign launch was "almost inescapable".
"It was not novel," Mr Black said.
"Regular readers of the newspaper would not have been 'shocked' by the contents of the letter."
These letters were not insignificant to the investigation's outcome, either.
MORE GYMPIE NEWS
Mr Black determined the August 10 letter was "not unusual" when compared to a dozen others written since he was elected, which flagged concerns about the circumstances surrounding Mr Fredman's "forced resignation" and the non-release to councillors of multiple Rattler-related documents, including the long-delayed review into its multiple delays and blowouts.
And the absence of any formal complaint about these letters spoke volumes.
"The fact that the mayor and the CEO apparently condoned the councillor's letter writing over a period of some three years suggests in any event that his conduct was not in their view causing them any significant detriment," Mr Black said.
The investigator found Mr Hartwig was "very much" performing his duty as a councillor by writing the letters and commenting to the media, and voicing his personal opinion.
"He was entitled to disagree with and even criticise, within reasonable limits … those he believed were responsible for the alleged deficiencies in council performance."
Mr Black found where Mr Hartwig "made comments said to be factual he appears in any event to have been accurate".
The investigation also noted Mr Hartwig "had obviously experienced difficulties in pressing his concerns through the internal channels of council".
"There is no evidence ultimately that the councillor was not justified in circumventing whatever internal processes the council had and resorting to the media to present his concerns," Mr Black said.