Wellington city councillors have been told to go dumpster diving if they want to retrieve personal documents thrown out with no warning by staff.
The 14 councillors have just one room in the civic building, a shared space where they can work.
But earlier this week, a staff member who thought the room was a mess, looked through the documents scattered on shelves and desks, found several old agendas and committee papers and threw the lot into a locked wheelie bin to be destroyed.
Helene Ritchie said she was very angry her documents were "all jumbled up in a rubbish bin somewhere".
"I came into our shared office space, the only space that councillors have ... to do some work and found all my papers gone," she said.
She said she had since been offered the opportunity to retrieve them from the bin.
"I am faced, and we are faced, with the prospect of going through the rubbish bin to retrieve our very valuable political notes, it's a major and very serious breach."
Ms Ritchie said the issue represented the dysfunction at the council, which she said was starting to affect the city's governance.
Just last week, councillors were told they had been barred from dealing directly with staff, and locked out of most parts of the civic building.
The new rules followed allegations of councillors bullying staff, and rifling through papers on staff desks.
Nicola Young said she was obsessed with tidiness and would never keep anything important in the room.
"The councillor-only area is a truly grotty room and it was full of old, old papers and it desperately needed a clean up," she said. "I'm delighted it has been cleaned up but I'd have to say it was a little insensitive considering that no one was told about it in advance and apparently some people keep personal papers there."
Ms Young said the council had become an unhappy place, lacking leadership.
"The truth is we've had a kind of sustained deterioration in relationships at the council and I completely blame the mayor for her lack of leadership," she said. "So this follows on from us being kept out of certain areas of council and accusations of bullying."
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the papers should never have been removed, but she was sure it was an honest mistake.
"There should have been a decent amount of notice for councillors to tidy up their shared area before any papers were disposed of and that was a mistake and there has been an apology made," she said.
"I contacted the staff members concerned immediately and said to councillors that papers should not be removed without their knowledge."
She said the staff member who threw the documents out and the chief executive had both apologised.
But Helene Ritchie said she was reluctant to go through the bins to get her papers back because she did not want to go through other councillors' papers.
"The mind boggles actually," she said.
"I'm not quite sure whether one would tip out the whole bin and then try and rearrange the papers, or go in head first, or whatever."