Gympie Council CEO Bernard Smith *** at an emergency Gympie council meeting this morning.
Gympie Council CEO Bernard Smith *** at an emergency Gympie council meeting this morning.

BREAKING: Council CEO resigns

THE hunt for Gympie Regional Council’s next CEO is underway following the resignation of Bernard Smith this morning.

Mr Smith’s resignation was accepted by the council at an emergency meeting this morning.

He will finish in the job on Friday.

The council is still considering the appointment of an acting CEO.

It brings to an end a controversial era for the council, and arrives less than two weeks into new Mayor Glen Hartwig’s term.

CEO Bernard Smith
CEO Bernard Smith

Mayor Glen Hartwig and councillor Dan Stewart left the room due to conflicts of interest, owing to previous complaints made against them by Mr Smith.

Bob Fredman and Warren Polley each declared a perceived conflict of interest.

Mr Fredman’s was due to his 40-year career at the council, and Warren Polley said during the election campaign the former mayor approached one of Mr Polley’s employees and asserted the employee was “setting myself (Mr Polley) up... to engineer the removal of the current CEO and insert himself into the position”.

Mr Polley denied this was his reason for seeking election.

Councillors voted to allow them to stay in the meeting.

Bernard Smith spent nine years as the council’s CEO.
Bernard Smith spent nine years as the council’s CEO.

Mr Smith’s nine-year run as the council’s chief was divisive.

The council’s achievements under his term include the award-winning Gympie aquatic centre and Smithfield St projects, the popular Youth Hub, and the blowout plagued Rattler.

He also came under fire for the council’s spending habits, with operating costs running in the red for three of the past four years – including a $12 million operating loss last year.

The award-winning Gympie ARC was built during Mr Smith’s tenure.
The award-winning Gympie ARC was built during Mr Smith’s tenure.

Criticism also came over a claimed purge of senior staff including the unlawful sacking of Planning Department officer Jill Promnitz in 2014 and the 2016 departure of Planning Director Mike Hartley amid charges of fraud.

Mr Smith denied any claims of a purge.

Mr Hartley was cleared of the charges following a trial; it was later revealed the council spent about $55,000 internally investigating Mr Hartley.

Questions also clouded the departure of Head of Engineering Bob Fredman in late 2016, with some – including sitting councillors – claiming Mr Fredman had not resigned but instead been sacked.

Even Mr Smith’s hiring in mid-2011 was a lightning rod in the community.

His arrival followed an eight year stint as the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council’s general manager.

Bernard Smith joined Gympie council after an eight year term with the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, which was controversially sacked by the NSW State Government. Mr Smith resigned two months later.
Bernard Smith joined Gympie council after an eight year term with the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, which was controversially sacked by the NSW State Government. Mr Smith resigned two months later.

Mr Smith resigned from the job in April 2008, two months after the councillors were sacked by the New South Wales State Government following a public inquiry into the Glasshouse cultural development centre.

The centre’s costs blew out from less than $10 million to more than $40 million.

Controversy reared its head again in Gympie in late 2015 when Mr Smith’s five-year contract was renewed by a seven-to-one vote less than five months out from the 2016 council elections.

Bernard Smith.
Bernard Smith.

The lone dissenter, ex-councillor and frequent critic Ian Petersen, moved a motion of no confidence against the CEO at Mr Petersen’s last meeting in February 2016.

The motion lapsed without a seconder.

Another no confidence motion against Mr Smith was intended to be tabled in January, but it was withdrawn on the day of the meeting.

This story has been updated to accurately reflect Mr Polley’s declared perceived conflict of interest.