Several councillors have openly criticised Chief Executive’s McGonigal’s action. One councillor e-mailed McGonigal saying that the “monitoring officer should be a Council appointment since it is a statutory role, or does that not matter to you? … Your e mail indicates that Mr Paterson leaving suddenly yesterday is somehow normal, rubbish!”. Another wrote her that “you have now set a collision course with many of the more senior Councillors, from all sides of the chamber, who have a strong sense of fairness and justice, and know how these things should be properly undertaken”.Patterson’s accelerated redundancy is being linked to allegations that an investigation into a complaint by Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, appears to have been undermined by senior council officers and political leaders.
Driver’s complaint alleges that McGonigal attempted to improperly influence a planning application to build 550 houses at New Haine Road Ramsgate. The planning application was submitted to Thanet Council in 2013 by East Kent Opportunities LLP a partnership jointly owned by Thanet Council and Kent County Council. Chief Executive McGonigal and Council Leader Clive Hart are members of the EKO management board.Following the submission of Driver’s complaint Monitoring Officer Patterson became concerned by the actions of Chief Executive McGonigal, Human Resources Manager Juli Oliver Smith, Council leader Clive Hart and Cabinet Member Michelle Fenner which, he alleged, may have undermined the investigatory process.
Patterson also expressed his concern that the external complaint assessor appointed by the Council had not interviewed planning officers in relation to Driver’s concerns about 2 meetings in 2013 at which Chief Executive McGonigal said that she intended to meet with planners and “illustrate the argument I want them to use to support the (EKO) application”, even though she had previously been advised by the Council’s Planning Manager that the application was contrary to Thanet Council’s planning policies and could not be approved.These concerns prompted Patterson to take the unprecedented step of issuing, on 28thApril, a 13 page letter supported by 20 pages of documents, identifying actions of McGonigal, Oliver-Smith, Hart and Fenner which he alleged had undermined the proper management of Driver’s complaint. The letter was copied to elected members of Thanet Council’s General Purposes Committee who are overseeing the management of Driver’s complaint. So shocked were the committee members that at their meeting on 29th April, they passed a vote of no-confidence in committee Chair, Councillor Fenner, who refused to vacate her post. They went on to vote to seek legal advice on the implications of rejecting the external complaint assessors report, which recommended that no further action be taken into Driver’s complaints.
Less than 48 hours later, Monitoring Officer Patterson’s redundancy, of which there was still 8 weeks notice to run, was brought forward by McGonigal to become effective immediately (from 1 May). It is understood that Patterson was given 20 minutes to clear his desk under supervision and was then escorted from the building.Said Councillor Driver “I am astounded that someone who faces extremely serious allegations of misconduct was able to dismiss the person who was overseeing the investigation into her conduct. Furthermore, it’s utterly unbelievable that when the Monitoring Officer reports on alleged actions by senior people which he believes might subvert and undermine investigations into my complaint; the person I have complained about then terminates his employment with immediate effect. It appears to me that efforts might be being made at the highest level of Thanet Council to prevent a proper and independent investigation into my allegations against Chief Executive. I now have absolutely no confidence that senior council officers and politicians will manage the complaint process fairly or honestly. The only way to deal with this extremely serious situation and to reassure the public that Thanet Council is an honest, open and transparent organisation, is for a full independent enquiry to take place as quickly as possible.
Driver said that he is so concerned by the possibility of a “cover-up” of his complaint that he is seriously considering contacting the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles and the Kent Police to ask them to intervene to “prevent what some people might believe to be potentially criminal activities from being swept under the carpet at Thanet Council”.