A grievance lodged by former Thanet council deputy chief Tim Willis against chief exec Madeline Homer has been published online.
The leaked document from 2020, shared by former councillor and blogger Ian Driver and former councillor Suzanne Brimm, lists Mr Willis’s claim of systematic bullying, intimidation and victimisation.
Mr Willis, who oversaw the Housing and Planning service, Communications and Digital, Finance and Procurement and digital transformation across the council’s services, left the authority last October. He had worked at Thanet council since 2015.
In August 2019 he was subject to a shock suspension from his role. No reason was publicly given for the suspension and it provoked an outcry from many councillors.
Mr Willis was reinstated a month later and cleared of all seven gross misconduct allegations made against him. It was later claimed in The MJ publication that fellow senior manager Tim Howes had made unsubstantiated allegations about Mr Willis to the police. Police concluded no crime had been committed.
Mr Howes was suspended from his role in 2020 and dismissed last month.
Mr Willis departed Thanet council with £280,000 severance pay as part of a non-disclosure agreement and council leader Ash Ashbee later made a public apology over his suspension, saying “it should not have happened.”
In his grievance Mr Willis claims he was victimised and undermined by the council’s chief executive, adequate action was not taken by the authority in regards to his complaints and damage had been caused to his reputation and health.
The grievance, which was included in a recent council agenda but was restricted from public view, also outlines numerous claims of aggressive behaviour directed towards Mr Willis, exclusion from decisions that fell under his remit and claims of attempts to “immediately remove” him from his post, “tarnish” his reputation and “destroy (his) career.”
In the grievance Mr Willis says he was also undermined after raising the need to follow procurement law, regulations and the council’s own rules over the controversial purchase of Bam Nuttall pontoons. On that occasion Cabinet members agreed with Mr Willis’s advice and did not move forward with the purchase – although a pontoon was later bought.
Mr Willis wrote that it was widely known he was suspended over the gross misconduct allegations but Thanet council did not make any statement (at the time of his 2020 grievance) about those allegations being thrown out and had not acted to protect his rights as an employee.
He said he had 40 years’ working experience in the private, voluntary and public sector but had “never experienced a relationship with my manager, nor a culture, such as the one that prevails at Thanet.”
A Thanet District Council spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable that confidential employment information has been shared in the public domain.
“Public commentary is entirely inappropriate, particularly given that the individuals involved are not in a position to respond publicly. The council will rightly not be commenting further on this matter.
“The priority for the council is to continue to provide vital public services to the community.”
Last year external auditors Grant Thornton issued a report branding relationships between the authority’s top officers as in “serious breakdown” and listing a catalogue of failures within the council, including using disciplinary action against staff raising complaints; attempting to discredit criticism in independent reports; draining finances due to disciplinary and tribunal actions and causing significant reputational harm to those involved in prolonged grievance processes.
Thanet District Council unanimously agreed to Grant Thornton’s four statutory recommendations – including bringing in the independent Monitoring Officer from a large local authority to carry out a risk assessment of the current employment tribunal claims and proposed actions including a detailed financial analysis of the options available to the council.
The report by that Independent Monitoring Officer, Quentin Baker, is to be discussed by councillors tonight (May 19), The meeting will not be in public although Mr Baker’s recommendations are expected be published.
Thanet council says the reason for holding the session in private is: “The report relates to individuals and contains personal information, the report also includes financial and business information of the authority.”