A petition criticising the £270,000 payoff to the chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council has been blocked by officials.
Liberal Democrat candidate Jeremy Gale described it as a dark day for democracy after being told that his proposed e-petition would not be accepted by Brighton and Hove City Council.
Mr Gale said that the petition “sought to give residents answers over the removal of outgoing CEO Penny Thompson and the bumper six-figure payout she is set to receive”.
Today (Tuesday 30 June) is Ms Thompson’s last official day as chief executive. Her departure was agreed at a meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources (P&R) Committee on Thursday 18 June.
Mr Gale said that the proposed e-petition was submitted via the council’s website on Saturday 21 June.
It took officers a week to inform him, he said, that the public would be denied the opportunity to add their support.
The proposed petition said: “We the undersigned petition Brighton and Hove Council to
- Explain why the P&R meeting of Thursday 18 June was held behind closed doors.
- Explain the reasons as to why Penny Thompson was put in a position where she had to resign.
- Explain why, at a time of budget pressures, a £269,000 payout was agreed.
- State what safeguards will be put in place to protect council tax payers from obscene levels of payouts in the future.”
Mr Gale had hoped to attract more than 1,250 signatures, the level of support that triggers a full council debate.
When the petition was rejected, officials cited “possible legal sensitivities”, saying that “it is not appropriate for the petition to be presented at a council meeting”.
Mr 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.”