Cllr Peter Jackson was speaking at an extraordinary meeting called for members to debate the report they were presented with earlier this month.
The long-awaited review into governance at the council branded the working environment ‘harmful’ and criticised its organisational leadership before making a number of recommendations on how it should proceed.
Since then, the leaders of all parties on the council have been discussing the report in a working group, with their findings presented to all members on Tuesday.
The report delved into issues in the relationship between the council’s CEO, Daljit Lally, and its political leadership which go back to the ousting of Cllr Jackson after he suspended Mrs Lally in 2020.
Cllr Jackson said: “We’ve had a story of unlawful behaviour, a story of the harrowing treatment of staff who have been driven out of this organisation. We’ve had unlawful behaviours not just in terms of the international business but in terms of unlawful payouts.
“Even worse than that, we’re going to hear in future reports of unlawful payments to senior staff. The Caller report in my view is actually just the tip of the iceberg. The real story is actually worse than we’ve heard.
“The Caller report is actually far too late but it is a vindication of some of the things some of us have said. There has been a lack of accountability and there has been a group of senior officers within this council who decided councillors did not have the right to information – and that is obviously completely wrong.”
Earlier, current leader Glen Sanderson claimed the report had not found fault in terms of the administration – although accepted there had been fault in other areas which remained his responsibility.
The report did note that ‘the effectiveness of political and organisational leadership’ had ‘deteriorated significantly’ and described a ‘winner takes all’ approach from successive administrations of all parties.
Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Jeff Reid said: “We have the opportunity to reset, start again, be grown up, sensible and conduct politics in the way it should be done instead of being dragged down into the cesspit.”
“The golden thread that weaves through this report is the fact that the politicians did not do the thing they should have done in the first place which is got a hold of the officers and said ‘I don’t care what you think, this is what we are going to do’.”
Deputy leader Cllr Richard Wearmouth defended the administration, saying members had experienced ‘really challenging behaviour’ and called for a deep understanding of what had gone wrong.
Cllr Sanderson added: “There is no cesspit. There is no mire. We have a council performing all its services very well. We have an administration that is doing things for our people.
“We know what the problem is.”
Councillors unanimously agreed to adopt the recommendations of the report, which includes a restructure of senior management ‘as soon as practically possible’.