A report has condemned "persistent and widespread bullying" in Torridge District Council.
Women have been singled out
The report, by senior council figures from outside Torridge, says the council is paralysed with fear.
Women in particular are bullied, and the atmosphere created by just a few members of council has led to serious stress and poor performance.
The review was carried out by senior figures from Forest of Dean and Shropshire councils under the government's Comprehensive Performance Assessment.
It says: "Bullying and harassment was carried out by just a few members, but the impact of their behaviour is felt in all parts of the council."
But the bullying had not been challenged and had been "allowed to become endemic".
It says that although many staff are committed and have a lot to offer, the council is condemned as patriarchal and archaic, inward looking and does not know what matters to local people.
Staff are treated like children, with a sad lack of trust.
They say that morale is as "fragile as a soufflé", and could collapse at any time.
The inspection was done before the latest elections and there have been some changes in membership.
There is also a new chief executive in charge and the report says that Torridge does recognise this is a turning point.
Maybe we did not look on it as bullying at the time
Council leader Pat Ferguson
But the report says that Torridge is going to need a lot of outside help, that it should look for it urgently, and it does not have time to be sidetracked by holding a witch hunt.
Council leader Pat Ferguson, said: "I think we were aware that it was happening.
"Maybe we did not look on it as bullying at the time."
She said that staff training would be improved and staff would be assured that bullying, the "worst form of management", would not be tolerated.
She said: "I think this is a good chance for us. We have got 17 new members on the council, and we have every chance now of showing we can take this forward.
"We will not shrink from any of the issues."
But she said there would be no forced resignations.
"It has to be the individual's choice if they bring themselves forward," she said.
Chief executive Trevor Smale admitted that the depth of concern over bullying had come as a surprise.
"It was acknowledged that some of it was going on, but I think that the fact that it was impacting on the whole council came as the biggest shock.
"But the issues are now out in the open and that will allow the council to build more confidence in itself.
"And that will in turn lead to much improved service provision to the community."