Courier 28 January 2005


by Mary Harris

Behind closed doors on Wednesday night the fate of the chief executive of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council was due to be discussed.
The "exempt item" about Rodney Stone, which meant members of the public and press were barred, was thrashed out by full council at the end of the 6.30pm meeting.

A confidential report sent out beforehand to the 48 councillors confirmed what the Kent and Sussex Courier reported three weeks ago - that members of the Tory cabinet had met with Mr Stone to discuss his departure.
In the leaked document it stated Mr Stone had "signalled his willingness" to have talks to "mutually agree a severance package".

If a deal can be brokered, it could see him retire early on the grounds of the "efficiency of the service". Such retirements, the report by council leader Cllr Melvyn Howell stated, can apply in a variety of circumstances including "where the skill required for a role changes over time, thereby requiring a "new set of skills for the future".

At the meeting, Cllr Howell was due to seek approval for a group of senior councillors to have the task of negotiating a package with Mr Stone. This would be submitted to full council for approval and ultimately for agreement by the Audit Commission - the body which produced the searing Comprehensive Performance Assessment report.

The council will seek to appoint an interim chief executive if Mr Stone's retirement is approved. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister advises a gap between retirement of a chief executive and appointment of an interim "ideally should not exceed four weeks".

Approval for a group of senior members to start "the search" was sought at Wednesday's meeting but final approval of a candidate will rest with full council. Permission to start the recruitment process for a permanent chief executive was also asked for at the meeting.

Council Labour group leader Cllr Ronnie Ooi said at a September meeting it was "generally accepted" the adverse CPA report was due to systemic weaknesses in the council's performance and "we all needed to pull together to restore the council's reputation".
He said therefore it was "unacceptable" for Mr Stone to be made the "scapegoat" of the report, "especially as it criticised the Conservative leadership of the council but not the officers".
He said: "The proper approach for the council as a whole - councillors of all parties - is to meet together in a closed door session to discuss the issue, and after that explain their decision to the public.
"There should not be secret plots and secret deals hatched by the majority Conservatives alone. This is the old way of thinking which is at the root of the weaknesses in performance criticised by the CPA."
He said there was "something admirable" in the Conservative leadership's initial response to the CPA report in asking all councillors, officers, voluntary organisations and residents to "pull together".

Leader of the council Lib Dem Group David Mills hoped if Mr Stone left it would pave the way for a new chief executive who would take the council "forward positively and dynamically" but said improvement would not happen until those "truly responsible accept the proper accountability and go. A new cabinet with new ideas is what is required".
He added: "Many of the problems identified in the recent CPA report remain and need to be addressed. But most of the problems were not officers' responsibility and will not be affected by a change of chief executive. They were, and are, the responsibility of the cabinet, all of whose members remain in office. Their sheer effrontery in doing so continues to amaze and appal those of us who are genuinely seeking urgent improvement in the council's performance."
He said the cabinet currently included, among others: "Two former leaders of the council."
He said: "Successive reports have covered the period during which they were in office and have been increasingly critical, culminating in the most recent which classified the borough council as 'weak'.
"Others are those who have failed to accept the conclusions of the CPA inspectors and who still appear to believe they did nothing wrong, and the portfolio holder who was almost single-handedly responsible for the 'brown bins' fiasco, which was as classic an example as can be imagined of how not to consult the public on an important and sensitive issue."

written by Residents of Tunbridge Wells
published in the Courier, 28 January 2005

Time for clean sweep (3)

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council chief executive Rodney Stone is hopefully on the way out, he will pick up a large golden handshake and pension for the inefficiency that he has shown over the years in destroying the environment in what was once a clean and pleasant town.

He has been in charge at the top for many years and those below him are only a product of his management.

I only hope that any successor will have an interest in the welfare of the town and its people rather than the self glorification that seems to have come with the job in the past.

May I suggest that we employ as chief executive whoever is running the traffic warden department, as they appear to be the only over efficient department in the whole of the council.

Brian Fisher
Grove Hill Road Tunbridge Wells

Planning row not settled (1)

The headline " Time For A Clean Sweep " (Courier, Letters, 21 January 2005) is apposite and to the point. Correspondent Hugo Pound's letter accurately pinpoints the problem and suggests an excellent course of action. But I have some doubts that his suggestion to contact councillors will be fruitful.

At the last meeting of the Lamberhurst Parish Council, I gave a brief resume of the disaster that is the history of Bayham Lake House since 1986.
Those of us who have followed this saga are aghast at the decision of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to capitulate to Mr Ralph Gold and allow him to keep this substantial country house in contravention of all planning considerations.
This decision was based on counsel's opinion, paid for by council taxpayers. It has proved impossible for the public and even an elected body in the form of our parish council to have sight of this. I urged the parish council, as a statutory body, to insist on viewing the document under the Freedom of Information Act.
Present was Lamberhurst's borough councillor, Roy Bullock. When the chairman asked him for any comments, in his position as tzar of planning at the borough council, his reply was: "I do not wish to comment on this matter."

So much for transparency, public consultation and participation.

Ian Peters
Town Hill Lamberhurst Tunbridge Wells

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"