Courier 7 January 2005 Front Page

Insiders tell of plots to dethrone the boss

by Mary Harris

The Chief Executive of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council could lose his job at the helm of the crisis-hit authority, insiders have told the Courier.

It is believed at a Conservative Group meeting on Tuesday, councillors discussed Rodney Stone stepping down. Just hours later on Wednesday, representatives of the Tory cabinet are thought to have met with Mr Stone. The council remained tightlipped yesterday (Thursday, 6 January 2005) but some insiders believed he was being made a "scapegoat" for the inherent problems of the council.

Mr Stone's departure would mean he will not see through an improvement plan designed to address government's searing criticisms.

In a statement Mr Stone simply said: "The leadership has raised the subject. Discussions are in hand."

This latest sign of discord at the Town Hall followed an annus horribilis during which the Audit Commission placed the "weak" council's performance near the bottom in a nationwide survey. [ TWBC came 218th out of the 237 councils nationwide ]

In the same year it lost its three year battle with developers for a multiplex on the ABC cinema site - a victory it badly needed to win back public confidence. Its community and corporate plans, the crucial bedrocks of an authority, were "cobbled together at the last moment," according to former mayor Cllr David Wakefield.

Sources close to the council told the Courier there was "frustration" about the leadership while others were concerned about delays in appointing a new chief executive at such a turbulent time. It is likely the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister would be a key consultee.

Mr Stone has been vocal about the need for councillors to get behind the far-reaching changes at the Town Hall. However, there are some councillors who are believed to be resisting reforms and have treated his training proposals with disdain.

One councillor told the Kent and Sussex Courier they understood the position of new council leader Cllr Melvyn Howell was "not strong" within his own Tory group - perhaps a sign of future disunity.

Many backbenchers feel disenfranchised and this has led to stormy meetings and protracted decision-making - another criticism levelled by the Audit Commission.

A more stringent selection process for Tory candidates can be expected for elections in 2006.

Tunbridge Wells Conservative Association [ 84 London Road, T.W. ] chairman Richard Harding said: "The association selects candidates and we have an interest to make sure strong and proficient individuals represent the party. This is what we have done with Kent County Council candidates and what we will do for the borough council."

written by a Resident of Tunbridge Wells

Part I.)

It is astonishing that according to last week’s Courier (7 January 2005) “insiders” should believe that Mr Stone is being made a scapegoat. These insiders must surely be the senior managers of whom several are weak and inefficient, and clearly incapable of doing work effectively. Stone should have long ago relieved them of their positions and brought in fresh blood.

These old cronies of the Chief Executive have kept their jobs because of him and now it is payback time and they are trying to protect the man to whom they are beholden.

Stone and his friends have treated Councillors and Residents with arrogance and disdain on numerous issues of whom the Telephone House Development is one excellent example.

Stone must surely have realised that the questions put to him by the Telephone House Neighbours Association (THNA) about the conduct of his staff needed investigation. If he had sought out the answers he should have relieved those involved of their positions. Maybe he did find the answers. Nevertheless he chose to refuse to respond to the THNA letters by alleging that its members were “mindset”!

A Chief Executive who over many years has led our Borough down to number 218, ex 237 countrywide, cannot be trusted to take us up again.

Stone must be replaced by an able outsider.

Part II.)

Councillors have been weak and ineffective for many years. This is surely in part due to the deliberate policy of Stone ( and his cronies) to act towards them on the basis that the less they know of the law and practice of running a Borough the easier it is for him to control them.

Indeed Stone persuaded the Council to pass a resolution giving him greater overriding powers.

The Telephone House Development is again an excellent example of how Councillors who were ignorant of the law, were kept uninformed and misled by employees.

We now read in the Stakeholder Conference News that belatedly Councillors are to be given “bespoke training”. What training were they ever given in the past?

The new Council Leader, Cllr Melvyn Howell, and his Cabinet must dismiss Stone forthwith, and choose a first class replacement from outside the Council, who will eradicate the dead amongst Stone’s cronies. Mr Howell may or may not now turn out to be a good Leader but he has no chance of success unless Stone goes and he can obtain good advice from his replacement.

24.12.04 - No Surprise to Council Officers and Councillors in recent AUDIT COMMISSION REPORT findings (End of Year 2004)
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's dismal performance

What went wrong with the Telephone House Planning Applications ?
The uneasy questions to the Chief Executive Rodney Stone and other senior officers of TWBC

2005, the questions are still unanswered - they are as intriguing as in 2001.

2001 - Tunbridge Wells Borough Council's Internal Inquiry into the Telephone House Debacle

A guide through Tunbridge Wells Local Press since January 2003 - "Failing Council"