‘Vulnerable’ director was considering her position

Reporter:

Andrew Boyd

A COUNCIL employee applied for early retirement before an Ombudsman’s complaint was made about a councillor, a tribunal heard.

The tribunal of Mostyn councillor Patrick Heesom continued at St Park’s Hotel, Ewloe, yesterday, as he stands accused of six breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct.

One of the allegations relates to his conduct towards Flintshire Council’s former director of community, Susan Lewis, who the tribunal heard felt undermined in her role.

Barry Davies, Flintshire’s head of legal and democratic services, recalled how officers became aware Ms Lewis was considering her position at a meeting on February 27, 2009.

He said: “It was quite clear she felt vulnerable.

“She was considering her position and my understanding is that the chief executive (Colin Everett) had asked her not to pursue anything at that particular time.”

The tribunal heard that just two days later Ms Lewis wrote a letter to the authority stating her wish to take early retirement.

On the same weekend, Mr Everett sent an email making reference to the “urgent” need for an Ombudsman’s complaint to be made about Cllr Heesom and this request was quickly followed through by Mr Davies.

During cross-examination Mr Davies dismissed the suggestion the complaint had been quickly compiled to stop Ms Lewis taking early retirement.

He said: “It was to support her rather than preventing her retiring. I didn’t think she would retire at that stage.”

Mr Davies, who told the tribunal he had not seen the retirement request letter until 2010 and was told it had been placed into abeyance, said no timescale existed for the complaint dossier to be completed.

He said reasons for the quick compiling included concerns about leaks being made to the media on the situation and to avoid distress being caused to employees.

During cross-examination by Michael Murphy, of Cllr Heesom’s legal team, Mr Davies was asked why he had not approached Cllr Heesom regarding the complaint.

He replied: “I could have spoken to Cllr Heesom but my view was that he wasn’t going to change.”

Mr Davies said attempts were made to mediate and “all avenues were exhausted” before the complaint was made.

But Mr Murphy questioned whether meetings had occurred and he also questioned the choice of Mr Everett and council leader Cllr Arnold Woolley as neutral figures in the mediation process.

Mr Davies had previously described Cllr Heesom as “likeable, amicable and conscientious” but on the second day of the inquiry he said the councillor could be “very robust” and did not always follow advice given.

Kerry Feather, Flintshire’s head of finance, gave written evidence that she believed it was not in the authority’s financial interests for Ms Lewis to take early retirement owing to the cost of replacements and change of personnel.

The tribunal continues.

See full story in the Leader

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