Thanet council chief exec reports Labour councillor to Standards in row about suspended top officer

Cllr Karen Constantine

Ramsgate councillor Karen Constantine has been reported to the Standards Committee by Thanet council chief executive Madeline Homer.

The move follows a statement made by Cllr Constantine about employment law and the need for councillors to be able to have an overview of staffing matters and a policy that promotes impartiality and clarity.

The comment came following the shock suspension of Thanet council’s deputy chief executive and s151 officer Tim Willis last week.

The reason for his suspension has not been confirmed by Thanet council. Mr Willis has been with the authority since 2015.

But the suspension has been heavily criticised. South Thanet Labour policy officer Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt said: “It is utterly unacceptable that Thanet District Council’s Deputy Chief Executive, Tim Willis, has been suspended. I’ve always found Tim to be a man of integrity keen to support a positive vision for Thanet.”

Retraction demand

It has now emerged that Cllr Constantine was ordered to retract her statement but has refused.

She said: “ As a result of my comments to The Isle of Thanet News, the chief executive Madeline Homer took the highly unusual step of phoning me to ‘demand’ that I retract my statement. I was very clear that as an elected councillor I am able to state that councillors should have an overview of staffing matters at TDC. Not the detail as that would be inappropriate.

“ I was told three times to retract my comments. I was very clear that not only do I have the right to make my statement but that I will not be bullied.

“As a result I have been reported to TDC standards committee.  I stand my comments. I believe I am owed an apology and I am seeking legal advice.

“In the meantime I wonder what the residents I represent and support on a daily basis think of this misuse of power? If our chief executive has nothing better to do, I do. My commitment is to those people that put their trust in me as their councillor. “

Section 151 officer

The Local Government Act 1972 requires every local authority to appoint a suitably qualified officer responsible for the proper administration of its affairs. Section 151 officers are required to ensure the legality and financial prudence of decisions. Officers must be a qualified accountant belonging to one of the recognised chartered accountancy bodies.

The Section 151 officer has a number of statutory duties, including the duty to report any unlawful financial activity involving the authority (past, present or proposed) or failure to set or keep to a balanced budget.

The Section 151 officer also has a number of statutory powers in order to allow this role to be carried out, such as the right to insist that the local authority makes sufficient financial provision for the cost of internal audit.

The responsibilities of the S151 Officer cannot be delegated. The S151 Officer  is a role prescribed by law.

Thanet council does have a deputy S151 Officer.

Mr Willis is one of a four person top team of officers at Thanet council. The others are chief executive Madeline Homer, Director of Operational Services Gavin Waite and Director of Corporate Governance and Monitoring Officer.Tim Howes.

A spokesperson for the authority said they were unable to make comment on the Standards complaint against Cllr Constantine.