Three elected (and now suspended) members of Armidale Regional Council (ARC) have responded enthusiastically to the call for a public inquiry by the administrator Viv May last week.
"We called for an inquiry over a year ago," said Debra O'Brien.
"We made formal complaints in September, October and November last year about bullying by staff and serious governance and management problems.
"Despite several phone calls to the Office of Local Government (OLG), there was no response, except an acknowledgement."
Ms O'Brien said she, Dorothy Robinson and Margaret O'Connor all supported Mr May's call for accountability and transparency.
"It's been our call for years," she said
"But the NSW Government's rules required strict secrecy about our complaints."
The three also claim there was never any political infighting on council.
"The so-called squabbles and differences of opinion between councillors and council staff were about accessing the information we needed to do our job," Dr Robinson said.
"That's all too evident from the open council meetings. We simply kept asking for information; the CEO kept using arguments to deny us that information.
"We even appealed to the Information Commissioner, whose report in January 2020 listed a litany of errors made by council staff in denying us the information. But to no avail. When people hide information, it suggests there's something to hide.
"Obviously, there would have been no need to appeal to the Information Commissioner if ARC had provided us with the information
"Viv May's comments imply we now need a public enquiry to force people to provide answers under oath."
The Armidale Express contacted former ARC CEO Susan Law for comment, but was advised that for legal reasons she is unable to speak with media.
However former Armidale Mayor Simon Murray said the claim of denied information was untrue.
"Which council staff were hiding information?", he said
"Everything that was asked for was provided. Some of the information was confidential where if councillors wished to take an item away and read it, they had to sign for it, but they had access to all that information."
Mr Murray went on to say that one of the problems he had on council was councillors not knowing their role.
"One of the roles is that you are a pseudo board member - in other words you keep out of operational matters," he said.
"A lot of councillors wanted to get involved in operational matters and that was a loggerhead problem."
Ms O'Connor said if there was an inquiry she hoped it would include the failure of the OLG to act on their complaints.
"As well as the rules that prevented us from talking about these very serious issues," she said.
"Answers to Parliamentary questions show no action was taken for nine months until councillors were suspended. "
If our concerns had been acted on, subsequent problems could have been preventedMargaret O'Connor
Mr Murray agreed the Office of Local Government could have done more.
"Both sides submitted queries to OLG and we had frustrations with OLG," he said.
"Council submitted evidence to OLG, and nothing seemed to happen. I would question whether the OLG is actually performing the duties it should be.
"The fact that we had a senior counsel report and nothing was done about it. You've got to sit back and say there were some real failures in the system if you didn't have alarm bells or a red flag that went up to say - hang on we've got some real problems here."
Dr Robinson said the inquiry should be conducted in tandem with the reinstatement of suspended councillors.
"Our community needs and deserves representative democracy," she said.
"When Wingecarribee council recently encountered similar problems, they were provided with expert support to help fix the problems while they continued to represent their community.
"That would be the ideal situation - an inquiry to find out how it happened and prevent similar problems in future, while at the same time allowing all the important work of council to continue in the best interests of our community."