LEADER of the council Louise Goldsmith was asked whether the chief executive ‘jumped’ or ‘was pushed’ at a meeting yesterday (January 20).
The governance committee at West Sussex County Council was asked to recommend the removal of the chief executive role to full council.
The role will be replaced by a chief operating officer and a temporary transformation director.
But although the motion was passed, many questions were put to Mrs Goldsmith on her decision.
“This seems to be a decision taken largely by the leader,” said Liberal Democrat James Walsh, sitting on the committee.
“This presumably must have been in the leader’s head before.
“Much is being made of a £25,000 saving, that does not seem to me to be much of a financial driver.”
He said the council is essentially a business, and all businesses ‘need a chief executive at the helm’.
He said a chief operating officer and transformation director ‘will not carry anything like the same weight’.
This comes after the announcement on January 6 that the £175,000-a-year chief executive Kieran Stigant is standing down on January 31.
“We’re being asked to put the pieces together and the cup has been shattered,” said Dr Walsh.
“Was it Kieran’s decision or was it somebody else’s decision to leave the council at this time. Did he jump or was he pushed?
“To lose one chief executive might be unfortunate, to lose two definitely seems to be careless, and the current leader has lost two chief executives in a relatively short time.”
Leader Mrs Goldsmith responded, and said: “Kieran has been working through plans since June 2013.”
She said he was working on the new commissioning council and at that stage was talking about whether to carry on or not.
“You might want to make up some great story,” she said.
“This has been a very grown-up decision. “
Labour leader Brenda Smith was also unhappy with the way the decision was made.
“I have got to say I was pretty shocked and Louise knows that,” she said. “There is absolutely no suggestion up until that point that this was on the cards. I am personally very, very sorry that Kieran is going. Three-and-a-half years, it is not a long time in the life of a chief executive.
“What I am still struggling with and cannot get my head around is why I did not know until January 6.
“I cannot accept that since June 2013 this has been an option. I believe there has been six months that members could have been informed.”
UKIP leader Michael Glennon spoke at the meeting, and said there should have been a consultation with members over the move.
“How do you believe you have the right to make this major decision without consultation,” he said.
It was revealed the transformation director will earn £130,000 per year in an 18-month post, and the chief operating officer will go to one of the directors at the council, who will get an extra £10,000 on top of their salary.
“As far as savings are concerned that was never the object of the exercise,” said Conservative Michael Brown.
“The fact that the transformation director is coming in for a short period of time, the organisation at the end of that time will revert to a single-headed leadership.”
Mrs Goldsmith said the chief operating officer model is one which has been taken on by several councils ‘successfully’ including Kent County Council.
Five members voted to recommend the plans, but Dr Walsh and Mrs Smith voted against it.