In a move coined “a dark day for local democracy”, Brighton & Hove City Council Officers have blocked a Liberal Democrat petition that sought to give residents answers over the removal of outgoing CEO Penny Thompson, and the six-figure pay out she is set to receive.
The proposed e-petition, was submitted via the Council’s website on Saturday, June 21. Council Officers took a week to inform the lead petitioner, Jeremy Gale, that the public would be denied the opportunity to add their support.
The petition read, we the undersigned petition Brighton & Hove Council to:
a) Explain why the Policy & Resources meeting of Thursday, June 18 was held behind closed doors.
b) Explain the reasons as to why Penny Thompson was put in a position where she had to resign.
c) Explain why, at a time of budget pressures, a £269,000 payout was agreed.
d) State what safeguards will be put in place to protect council tax payers from obscene levels of payouts in the future.
Gale had hoped to get 1,250 signatures, which would have triggered a debate on the matter at full council.
Responding for the council, Mark Wall, Head of Democratic Services cited “possible legal sensitivities” as to why the petition had been rejected and that “it is not appropriate for the petition to be presented at a Council meeting.”
Liberal Democrat, Jeremy Gale, said: “The whole process of removing Penny Thompson has been shrouded in a cloak of secrecy.
“The meeting that decided Penny’s fate and also the £269,000 she is set to receive was held behind closed doors, followed by politicians hiding behind walls of silence and carefully constructed statements. We now have unelected Officers denying residents an opportunity to show that they want answers regarding the decision. It is a dark day for local democracy.
“The payout has seemingly been nodded through by the Conservatives despite the fact the Conservative Government, in its Enterprise Bill, hopes to introduce a cap on exit payments made to public sector workers to end six-figure payouts. It is this kind of toothless opposition that angers so many residents who will now be footing the bill for Thompson’s payout.
“Our petition also sought to establish what safeguards would be put in place by the Council to protect residents from any obscene payouts in the future. It is only right for the Council to establish such mechanisms to ensure our council tax is being spent on service provision rather than any future golden handshakes.”
A second petition submitted by community activist Steve Parry was also declined.
Mr Parry’s submission was titled: “No to the payoff”
We the undersigned petition Brighton & Hove Council to refuse to pay Penny Thompson £269,000.00 as a ‘Payoff’.
Justification: Nobody with a moral and ethical commitment to public service can justify such a payment especially when the proposed recipient received more than £310,000 after a severance package and expenses from Hackney Council when she resigned after two and a half years. This is particularly important as, under her “leadership”, ‘Penny’s Pennies’ have been refused to those receiving DLA despite such action being ruled illegal by the High Court.
Mark Wall, Head of the Council’s Democratic Services, responded to Mr Parry, saying: “Your Online petition NO TO THE PAYOFF has been rejected because it names individuals, or provides information where they may be easily identified, e.g. individual officers of public bodies, or makes criminal accusations.
“Following consultation with the Council’s Monitoring Officer, I can confirm that:
“Unfortunately, the nature of the subject you have raised, including potential legal sensitivities, means it is not appropriate for the petition to be presented at a Council meeting. It has therefore been decided, accordance with the council’s constitution, not to accept it.
Mr Parry was arrested by Sussex Police on October 23 2011 after making allegations of fraud in the Council’s Housing Department. He was held on bail for 12 months before police decided not to proceed with any charges.
Mr Parry always maintained he was arrested to silence him.
On March 30, 2015, The Independent Police Complaints Commission upheld a complaint made by Mr Parry about his arrest and have instructed Sussex Police to re-investigate Mr Parry original complaints surrounding his arrest in 2011.
That investigation is being conducted at the moment and is ongoing.
Jugal Sharma the Head of Housing at Brighton & Hove City Council was sacked in November 2014 from his £82,000 a year role, for gross misconduct following a disciplinary panel hearing.
Mr Sharma was one of four people being investigated during an £18 million Sussex Police housing fraud investigation.
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