Courier 25 February 2005

Authority looks for Interim boss with specialist experience

by Mary Harris

The future of beleaguered Tunbridge Wells Borough Council chief executive Rodney Stone has been finally sorted out.

A statement from the council said Mr Stone "has decided to step down" - just weeks after the Kent and Sussex Courier revealed there were plans to oust him.

Mr Stone has been at the helm of the council for nearly 20 years but will now "pursue other interests" said a council statement released on Wednesday (23.02.2005). He is expected to leave at the end of March an dan interim chief executive is due to start soon after with a permanent replacement due to start in the autumn 2005.

There is a shortlist of applicants and Tory council leader Cllr Melvyn Howell said it would be a "specialist executive with proven skills and experience in driving the cultural change we need".

The council is working on wide-ranging improvements following the damaging Comprehensive B'erfar-mance Assessment, which levelled criticism at the "weak" authority.

It is believed there is a degree of unease among staff at the Town Hall about the agenda of a new executive and whethetr that would threaten jobs. Mr Stone was also known for "sticking up for staff' and this was also a concern for them, said an inside source.

Another insider said Mr Stone was believed to be pleased to move on to different challenges because he felt "out of sympathy" with many aspects of the way "local government is going nowadays".

One councillor said the claim that Mr Stone had "decided to stand down" was "absolute rubbish" and he was put in an "intolerable position".

However, leader of the Labout Group Cllr Ronnie Ooi agrreed the way forward was through a chief executivee's specialist skills.
"It is not a matter off bJaaie for the past but a matter of who best to work wtth in order to take the council forward. The main responsibility for the CPA report lies at the door of the Conservative leadership of the council."
When asked if he felt Mr Stone was pushed from his position, Cllr Ooi replied "You may have to refer for this to the leader of the council."

In the statement Mr Stone reflected on "solid achievements" which included the council's reserves and the revitalisation of the town through Royal Victoria Plaoe and other developments and the "visionary improvements" to the Assembly Hall and Dunorlan Park.
He said: "It has been a privilege to serve the borough where I was born. Even when there have been setbacks I have always been strengthened by thet loyalty, professionalism and friendliness of the council's staff."

Cllr Howell paid tribute to Mr Stone's long distringuised service. "He has seen us through many challenges and major changes in that time, achieving excellent working relationships with a succession of political leaders and administrations.
He talked about the implementation of the improvement plan, a key element of which is the "need to change the council's culture and thus the way is rerlated to its citizens."
"In the public, private and voluntary sectors alike, this is an extremely difficult task requiring highly specialist skills to achieve it."
"Rodney's decision to stand down to pursue his other interests has given us the opportunity to recruit, on an interim basis, a specialist executive with proven skills and experience in driving the cultural change we need," he said.

Lib Dem leader Cllr David Mills said: "I don't think the cabinet has handled it particularly well. I think we suspected they were setting the stage to blame Rodney for all sorts of things and let themselves off the hook."
"I think there are signs that is seriously going to happen. Rodney is not without fault but the main fault is the cabinet and most of them are not accepting that and this is an ongoing problem." He agreed staff were unsettled by the change afoot.
"I think there is some apprehension. I wish I could say it was unjustified but I do not think it is. Undoubtedly changes need to be made and I think the main and most important changes are at the cabinet level and the grapevine has it there is quite a lot of discontent among the Conservative group."
He paid tribute to Mr Stone. "He has been there a very, very long tune and he is a hardworking, conscientious and intelligent man and over the years done a good job for Tunbridge Wells in a variety of roles. He is a native of the area, he lives in the town, which many officers do not. On a personal level, when I was mayor, he gave me personal support as he did to a lot of councillors."
He added: "I hope very much with a new person we will be able to drive things forward because we really need to. I think we are getting perilously close to the situation where the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's administrators will come. I don't think they can be entirely satisfied with what we have done so far."

Lib Dem Cllr David Neve used a football analogy to explain his perception of Mr Stone's position. "He cannot be completely blamed for what happened. As a football manager he could have gone into the transfer market to get new players. Rodney was stuck with the players he has which is why they were relegated and it's not always a manager's fault. I think he has been a scapegoat. I think it was a case of 'We'd like to see you go so we can get someone else' rather than 'Oh, thank you very much for wanting to go'. They put him in an intolerable position whereby they undermined his authority in so many ways. It went public. I think it was mishandled."
He added in Cllr Howell was a "new leader willing to listen and who is open to suggestions".

TWBC Chief Executive's and Senior Officers' Attitude towards Residents and Rate Payers

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.

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