Councillors are expected to approve the appointments of an interim council Chief Executive and interim monitoring officer tomorrow (July 14).
The vacancies follow the immediate dismissal of former monitoring officer Tim Howes in April and the exit of chief executive Madeline Homer – with a £327,000 pay out- announced last month.
Mr Howes had been absent from the authority since the end of 2020 although a reason for his suspension was not made public at that time.
In January 2021 a meeting of the General Purposes Investigations & Disciplinary Sub-Committee was held. The function of this committee is to “ consider allegations/issues regarding disciplinary matters” and “suspensions” that may relate to top tier management.
A letter sent to council staff in February 2021 confirmed the suspension.
It is understood the issue was connected to an ‘unsubstantiated’ report made to Kent Police. It was later claimed in The MJ publication that Mr Howes had made unsubstantiated allegations about former deputy chief executive Tim Willis to the police. Police concluded no crime had been committed. Mr Howes was dismissed from his role.
Mr Willis left the authority last October with a public apology over a wrongful suspension in 2019 related to allegations which were not upheld and a £280k severance deal. A leaked document showed Mr Willis had previously lodged a grievance against Madeline Homer with accusations of systematic bullying, intimidation and victimisation.
Last month Madeline Homer’s exit from Thanet council was confirmed.
A statement was issued by the authority following a meeting on June 8 saying her exit was a ‘joint’ decision made by TDC and Ms Homer.
The council’s Section 151 Officer and Director of Finance Chris Blundell was appointed as Acting Deputy Chief Executive to cover Ms Homer’s duties as Head of Paid Service with immediate effect.
Her exit followed an independent report into failings at the authority, which included ‘serious breakdown’ in relationships of the top management team and the use of disciplinary action against staff trying to raise complaints.
Eight recommendations were agreed at a meeting of the council on May 19 including a restructure of the corporate management team to create a role responsible for HR (human resources).
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 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 an independent Monitoring Officer.
Prior to the auditors’ report the situation prompted Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee to appeal to central government to step in to deal with the culture at the council by “request(ing) the assistance of DHCLG to, in the public interest, regularise the governance of TDC”.
The letter, sent to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government (DHCLG) came amid on-going disciplinary and grievance proceedings. Although central government declined to step in it is understood Thanet council could still be at risk of entering ‘special measures.’
A summary version of the report by Independent Monitoring Officer, Quentin Baker, was published in May and highlighted concerns such as the personal relationship between Madeline Homer and Director of Communities Gavin Waite; the hostile relationship between the then-top four senior officers and the pay out of more than £1.5m for redundancy or employment tribunal deals between 2015-2021.
Following the exit of Madeline Homer, who is currently understood to be on ‘gardening leave,’ Gavin Waite, was suspended from his post. It is understood allegations of harassment and discrimination have been lodged. He was the last remaining member of the council’s senior management team.
Last month a memo leaked to the Local Government Chronicle said government advisers have suggested sending in commissioners to intervene at Thanet council.
The memo by staff at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities suggested using best value powers – allowing central government to intervene if a local authority is not making arrangements that are economic, efficient, and effective.
Only four councils since 2010 have previously been subject to this kind of intervention -Northamptonshire, Tower Hamlets, Rotherham and Doncaster – but the memo suggested government is looking at use of the powers at Thanet and Northumberland and extended action at Liverpool.
Tomorrow’s council meeting also includes discussion of a petition for a public meeting about the future of Margate’s Winter Gardens.
The meeting will be closed to the public when the appointments, and another item about a food service plan, are discussed.
‘Ensure staff are informed first’
A council spokesperson said: “The appointment of the Interim Chief Executive will be considered for approval at the Full Council meeting on Thursday 14 July. This item will be confidential and members of the press and public will be asked to leave the room during this discussion and the online broadcast will end.
“Until this appointment is confirmed by Council, we will not be commenting. A statement will be issued immediately after the meeting so the press will be informed, however this will be covered by a strict embargo until 10am the following day. This is to ensure that council staff are rightly informed of the news first.
“The Interim Monitoring Officer will also be considered for approval at this meeting. We will also share the details of this appointment following the meeting.”