Sunday, 18 May 2014

Hart, Fenner, Poole. Expel them from Labour Party!

Thank goodness new Council Leader Iris Johnston had the guts to sack Michelle Fenner and her partner Councillor Allan Poole from their Cabinet post. In a long meandering statement about their sacking, Fenner has the audacity to claim that she, Poole and ex-Council Leader Clive Hart had acted entirely properly in relation to the management of an extremely   serious complaint I had submitted about the actions of the Council’s Chief Executive.

She said that  “At the General Purposes Committee we acted in support of the Chief Executive’s rights against complaints we did this because we used factual evidence and we were guided by our sense of social justice and our integrity”. I agree that Fenner and Poole “acted to support the Chief Executive” but certainly not from the standpoint of  social justice and integrity. On the contrary, Fenner and Poole used all their influence as members of the General Purposes Committee to undermine, cover-up and nobble my complaint and ensure that the Chief Executive’s actions were never properly investigated. It was only the Conservatives, Independent and UKIP councillors voting together that prevented Fenner and  Poole  from sweeping one of the most serious complaints Thanet Council has ever received under the carpet.
Of course as discerning readers with a healthy distrust of politicians you have every right to think that I am exaggerating my claims and bigging up my own position. But hang on. The Council’s Monitoring Officer,  Mr Harvey Patterson, an experienced local government lawyer who was responsible for ensuring that the Council acts in accordance with the law, issued a 13 page letter supported by 20 pages of documents alleging that Fenner and Hart acted in ways aimed at  undermining the investigation my complaint.

About Fenner he alleges that she “appears to consider it appropriate to use subterfuge and concealment in a crude attempt to mislead the Monitoring Officer. .. conduct such as this  falls short of the Nolan principles of openness, honest and transparency that underpin and govern conduct in public life. As Cllr. Fenner has also chosen to disregard of my advice that she has no power to instruct (a senior human resources manager)  to become involved, I consider that her conduct brings her office into disrepute”. He adds that the conduct of Cllr Fenner and (a senior human resources manager employee) calls into question the integrity of the investigation as well the propriety of Cllr Fenner's and (a senior human resources manager)  involvement in it. He concludes that Fenner conduct  “suggests to me that (she) should not have had any involvement in the determination of Cllr Driver's complaints”
 Which takes us to ex-Council Leader Clive Hart in respect of whom Mr Patterson’s letter  says that when he explained to Hart how I managed to obtain a copy of an  e-mail (I borrowed it from a file) which appeared to show improper interference in the Council’s planning process by a senior officer

the Leader's  first  utterance…. was to ask whether Cllr. Driver's theft of a Council document had been reported  to the police. As the Leader had previously been a long serving member of the Planning Committee I was taken aback by his apparent indifference to the existence of the e-mail of 29 May 2013, only to the circumstances of its discovery and the identity of the discoverer. I nonetheless explained exactly what had happened and that it would be difficult to allege theft - and intention to permanently deprive the owner - as the document in question had been copied back to the Council and Cllr.Driver had agreed to return the original”.
But it  didn’t stop there. Mr Patterson alleges in his letter that Hart contracted the Chief Executive requesting  that I should be reported to the police for  stealing a council e-mail even though I had  informed the council I had taken it and returned it after copying. This rather unusual step of asking  someone who is being complained about to call the police on the complainant was described by Mr Patterson as “constituting  a serious error of judgement on his part”.

Mr Patterson was dismissed from his post, by the Council’s Chief Executive,  less than 48 hours after sending his letter to members of the Council’s General Purposes Committee. Several days after his  dismissal both Fenner and Poole voted against a Conservative Party motion  to investigate the issues raised by  Mr Patterson’s letter. In effect Fenner had voted to prevent an investigation into her own and ex-Council Leader Hart’s actions.  A  breath-taking  act of  dishonest self-preservation if ever there was one!
So there you have it,  the ex-Leader of Thanet Council and 2 of his senior colleagues acting in such a way as to prevent an investigation into serious allegations about improper interference into a planning application. This is one of the hidden reasons what Hart was forced to resign as leader and his supporters forced from the Cabinet. I sincerely hope that new leader Councillor Iris Johnston will now make sure that a fair and thorough investigation  without any interference is now allowed to take place without further delay.

Although Hart, Poole and Fenner have now been removed from (almost all) positions of influence at Thanet Council. I think it is beholden upon the Labour Party to launch a full investigation into the actions of these three councillors who, in my opinion, have brought their party into considerable disrepute. If found guilty they should be expelled from the Labour Party. But in the sad event that Labour covers-up the actions of its members and fails to act, you can exercise your right not to vote for the this shameful trio in 2015.


Hart Must Resign as Planning Vice-Chair

I believe that Ex-Council Leader Clive Hart should resign from his post as Vice-Chair of Thanet Council’s Planning Committee. Why? Because he has demonstrated through his actions that he is unlikely to be able  to comply with the Council’s constitutional requirement that the  Planning Chair and Vice-Chair “act in the interests of Thanet Council”.

When Leader of Thanet Council, Hart, along with Council Chief Executive Sue McGonigal,  was a management board member of the highly secretive East Kent Opportunities(EKO). EKO is  a limited liability partnership organisation jointly owned by KCC and Thanet Council. As board members Hart and McGonigal supported a planning application to Thanet Council to build 550 houses on greenfield land owned by EKO at New Haine Road, Westwood Cross. The application was very expensive (somewhere in the region of £50,000 but EKO refuses to tell me). The only source of EKO income is Council Tax so you had to the foot the bill for the planning application.
EKO was advised on several occasions that their application was contrary to  Thanet Council planning policy and had little chance of success. When the application was discussed by Thanet Council’s Planning Committee in November 2013 it was rejected. Soon afterwards  the  EKO Board, including Hart and McGonigal, met and voted to appeal against the decision of Thanet Council’s Planning Committee. The appeal will take place  later this year and is scheduled to last about week. It will cost close to £100,000 and once again as Council Tax payers you will be forced to pick up EKOs and Thanet Council’s bill for this appeal.

So what does this tell us? That Clive Hart the new Vice Chair of Thanet Council’s Planning Committee actively supported a planning application for an housing estate on greenfield land which was clearly against the policy of the Council he was leading at the time. That he also  voted to support a massively expensive planning appeal against the decision of Planning Committee he is now vice-chairman of. In short Hart now occupies a senior post on a Planning Committee which he recently shafted!   As vice-chairman of that committee, can he fulfil the constitutional  requirement  to “act in the interests of Thanet Council”? With a track record like this I don’t think so.
Finally the Local Government Association publication “Probity in Planning” asks “how a reasonable member of the public, with full knowledge of all the relevant facts, would view the matter (in this case Hart’s appointment as Vice Chairman of the Planning Committee) when considering whether the councillor’s involvement would be appropriate”. In my opinion most reasonable people, when made aware of Hart’s EKO shenanigans would view his appointment to this very influential position as an extremely poor choice. What do you think?

Monday, 12 May 2014

Ian Driver Statement Re Clive Hart's Resignation.

Clive Hart is using me as convenient scapegoat for his resignation.

Several, normally loyal, Labour Councillors have told me that they are unhappy with Clive's  leadership  and there have been strong rumours of a  challenge against him in the past couple of weeks. There is also strong  public discontent about Clive's management of the Manston Airport closure. I understand a petition is circulating around  Thanet calling for a vote of no confidence in Clive and his cabinet colleagues.

 I totally reject Clive's allegations that I have disrupted the operation of Thanet Council by making vexatious complaints, submitting  excessive freedom of  information requests and posting malicious articles on social media. The truth is that all of the issues I have complained and written about including -

·       The failed Pleasurama development  at Ramsgate

·       The secret TransEuropa Ferries debt which cost taxpayers £3.4 million

·       The East Kent Opportunities planning application scandal

·       The demolition of the Little Oasis Skatepark in Margate

·       The problems with the Dreamland restoration  budget

·       The secrecy surrounding  plans to build 1000 houses on the  Manston Airport site etc etc

have been found to be genuine matters of concern. Have been found to have  substance and legitimacy  and have resulted in the Council being forced, often against the strong opposition of Clive and his Cabinet colleagues,  to take action.

I am a firm believer in open and honest local government and it pains me to say it but Thanet Council is a very secretive organisation which frequently  takes decisions behind closed doors. This is why I am often forced to secure information from Thanet Council via Freedom of Information Requests. Contrary to Clive’s claims that I make excessive FOI request I have made less than 20 in the 3 years I have been a councillor. All of my appeals to the Information Commissioner have  been successful which indicates that there is indeed a culture secrecy at Thanet Council.

 I have, on rare occasions,   published confidential council documents. I have done this openly and in full public view unlike other councillors who secretly leak documents. I have  recorded and filmed meetings of the council. It is lawful to film and record such meetings and a majority of  English and Welsh Councils now allow the public filming, recording and broadcasting of their meetings, but Clive and his cabinet colleagues opposed this. I have published many hard-hitting articles about Thanet council and its politicians on Facebook and my blogsite These articles are based on facts and real events and are not the vindictive, malicious,  social media postings Clive would have people believe.

I firmly believe in open and transparent government and that secrecy must be kept to a minimum. I believe that the public has a right to know what is being done  in their name and with their money. I therefore make no apology for my actions and will continue to record, film, publish documents and make social media comment whenever the public interest requires.

 I must say I am flattered  that Clive credits me with the power and influence to single handedly disrupt the operation of Thanet Council. I am but one of 56 councillors and do not possess  the super-human  powers he obviously thinks I have. As I said I am an convenient scapegoat for Clive’s resignation the real reasons are nothing to do with me.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to Clive. He has had an incredibly hard job of work to do as Leader of Thanet Council. Although I have undoubtedly been a thorn in his side on matters of openness and transparency there is no doubt he  has given 100% to the job. I don’t take his comments about me personally and wish him the best of luck for the future.


Saturday, 10 May 2014

Manston Airport Housing. What Did Cllr Hart Know? Why Didn't He Tell?

According to my Freedom of Information Request Anne Gloag’s team have held several meetings with Council officers and Cabinet members to discuss  building 1,000 houses on “surplus” land north of Manston Airport in February and March of this year

The question is what did  Council Leader Clive Hart know about these discussions and why
didn’t he make them public? In answer to the first question, it’s  simply inconceivable that Hart didn’t know about the  talks. Apart from being the Council Leader, Hart has special responsibility for Strategic Economic Development Services. Major housing developments such as the 1000 homes plan mooted by Gloag’s team fall into the category of strategic economic development, so Hart must have either been briefed about Gloag’s plans by senior officers, or must have been present at some of the meetings himself. These meetings took place in February and  March 2014 , before the closure of the airport  was announced.

Which gets us to the second question why didn’t Hart  make Gloag’s  housing plans public when the closure of the airport was announced?  In this week’s Thanet Gazette, Hart devotes almost an entire column bigging himself up as  someone who wants to work with the community to save the airport. If this was true then surely he should have publically announced that Gloag’s team were discussing housing options with the Council even before the closure was announced. Surely Thanet residents campaigning to save the airport had a right to know what Gloag was thinking and surely as the Leader of the Council, Hart had a responsibility to tell residents about these facts.

There can be no excuses. Hart cannot claim commercial confidentially as a reason for not telling Thanet residents about Gloag’s plans. I submitted a Freedom of Information Request and the Council did not refuse me which means that the information could have been made public straight away.
So our cross-party, open and transparent, Council Leader who claims to be working “shoulder to shoulder” to save the airport appears to have witheld  important information from the public about land-grabbing-Gloags intentions. Just as he did with the TransEuropa Ferries secret  £3.4 million debt scandal. Just as he did with the East Kent Opportunities Planning Application. Just as did with the Liittle Oasis SkatePark SAS style dawn raid.

If you want open and honest community politics in Thanet  its time to look elsewhere.

UPDATE a very angry Hart confirmed in a twitter exchange late last night that he had briefed a small group of Thanet Councillors at the Overview and Scrutiny Panel on 29 April about Gloag's housing plans. That's all well and good, but the point is that at no time has Hart told the residents  of Thanet about Gloag's housing plans. Surely these are the first people who should have been told.  He's had plenty of opportunities in TV and Radio interviews, at meetings and of course in in his column in the Thanet Gazette. But no not a word about it. One can only assume that his failure to tell residents about this important development is because he does not think they are important. So much for his weasel words about standing shoulder to shoulder with Save Manston Campaigners.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Thanet Labour Vote for Dishonesty & Backside Covering

Last night I attended a meeting of the Council’s General Purposes Committee. This is the Committee which is supervising the investigation into my allegation that a senior council officer may have improperly influenced  a planning application submitted by East Kent Opportunities (EKO) to build 550 houses at the New Haine Road, Ramsgate (see my previous posts).

The Council’s ex-Monitoring Officer, Mr Harvey Patterson, who was dismissed last week by the Chief Executive, had made extremely serious allegations that the Chief Executive and the Head of East Kent Human Resources,  Councillor Michelle Fenner,   and Council Leader,  Clive Hart,  may have taken actions which could possibly  undermine the  investigation of my complaint. These allegations were set out in a 13 page letter supported by 20 pages of documentation. This letter was sent to the members of the General Purposes Committee last week and within 48 hours Mr Patterson was dismissed  from his employment with the Council. I wonder why?
Just so that you aware, every Council is required by law to have a  Monitoring Officer. It is the job of  the Monitoring Officer to ensure that the council, its staff and elected  councillors always act in in accordance with the law of the land and the Council’s own rules and regulations, which are set out in its Constitution. For a Monitoring Officer to send out a 13 page letter making extremely  serious allegations against some of the most senior people  at Thanet Council, is not a step which would have been taken lightly. In fact, it’s about as serious  as it gets.

But to continue with my  story, at last nights meeting  the Conservative members of the General Purposes Committee put forward a motion that Mr Patterson’s allegations should be  properly investigated and discussed by the committee. This motion was supported by the Independent and UKIP members of the Committee. To my utter astonishment and disbelief, Labour Councillors Michelle Fenner and Allan Poole voted against this motion. Labour Councillor Rick Everit abstained. Fortunately the motion was passed and there will now be an investigation. However, it’s the voting of Fenner and Poole which should be of massive public concern.
Here we have 2 of the most senior Labour politicians in Thanet voting against   an investigation into, what I believe to be,  the most serious allegations of misconduct ever to have hit Thanet Council. These allegations were not made by the usual suspects,  such as myself, but by  the Council’s own Monitoring Officer!.

 Most incredible of all,   Councillor Fenner, one the people against whom the Monitoring Officer had levelled very serious allegations, voted last night to oppose an investigation into  her own actions! It’s like me being able to vote against the Police  investigation into allegations that I assaulted  a security guard at the live exports demonstration  at Ramsgate Port this week.
Voting to protect your backside is a massive breach of the Councillors  Code of Conduct. I also believe it to be contrary to the rules and regulations governing councillors conflicts of interest. These rules mean that Councillor Fenner should not  have voted on the motion to investigate  Mr Patterson’s letter and should have left the room whilst the debate and vote took place. It’s inconceivable that Fenner, an experienced councillor of many years standing, did not know that it is ethically and perhaps  legally wrong to vote to block an investigation into yourself. It’s also amazing that the Chief Executive and new interim Monitoring Officer who were both at the meeting last night, failed to advise Fenner that in voting on the motion she had placed herself in a position of massive conflict of interest. I will of course be taking this up with the powers that be.

In today’s Thanet Gazette Council Leader Clive Hart has the audacity to write  that the Council’s  Labour administration is “as open as possible”.  This North Korean style re-writer of history neglects to say that it was under his own leadership that the scandals and cover-ups relating to TransEuropa Ferries, East Kent Opportunities, Little Oasis Skate Park and more recently Dreamland have emerged. Now his lieutenants are desperately trying to bury allegations about how they may have tried to nobble an important  investigation into serious allegations against the Chief Executive.
Instead of  taking responsibility for his administration’s actions Hart  heaps the blame   on a  “tiny but very noisy and disruptive minority of councillors”. Well I have news for Hart. This tiny group of noisy and disruptive councillors is becoming bigger. The Conservatives, my colleague independents, and UKIP are now beginning to put aside our difference to fight back against Hart's political mismanagement of Thanet Council. Even within his own Labour Group a growing number of councillors are becoming increasingly disillusioned with his brand of leadership.  How long will the great leader survive?

In less than a year you will have chance to rid Thanet Council of those politicians responsible for abusing power, telling lies, covering up wrongdoing, and mis-managing services.  In less than a year you will have the chance to replace  them with people who are passionate about open and honest government and developing a prosperous and sustainable future for Thanet and its people. Its time for a change.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Thanet Council Leader Clive Hart Nobble EKO Enquiry?

I have been contacted by a Thanet Council “insider” who warns me that the Labour Leader of Thanet Council, Clive Hart, might be trying to nobble the ongoing  enquiry into my serious allegations that a senior council officer may have exerted improper influence on a planning application submitted by East Kent Opportunities (see my other posts). 

The management of my complaint is vested in the Council’s General Purposes Committee (GPC). The membership of the committee is made up of  four Labour Councillors including Clive Hart and Michelle Fenner,  four Conservatives, one UKIP and one Independent Councillor Tom King.
Because of the alleged undermining and manipulation  of my complaint by senior staff  and GPC Chair Fenner  (allegations which were set out in  the, now redundant,  Monitoring Officer’s 13 page letter – see my other posts) the Conservative, UKIP and Independent councillors on the GPC  have  begun to vote together to block  any further  possibility of misconduct and to  ensure that my extremely serious allegations  are dealt with in a fair and proper manner.

My informer tells me that a meeting was held very  recently at which Council Leader Clive Hart allegedly asked council officers to advise him how could use his Labour Group majority voting power at next weeks Annual Council Meeting (15 May) to  remove the UKIP or Independent member of the GPC and replace that councillor with a more “compliant” independent councillor who I assume will vote the way he or she might be instructed to do by the Hart administration.

If such  manipulative and undemocratic actions were to succeed this means that the voting at the GPC would be Labour 4 plus the “compliant” Independent = 5 votes , Conservatives 4 plus 1 UKIP or 1 Independent =5 votes. This would mean votes will be tied giving the casting vote to  Labour Councillor Michelle Fenner who the now redundant Monitoring Officer alleged in his letter had engaged in actions which he felt may have undermined a fair and proper investigation into my allegations.
So there you have it, after the powers that be at Thanet Council allegedly tried  to undermine, weaken and ultimately stop  the investigation into a complaint about possible misconduct in public office, the   Leader of Thanet Council is now, according to well placed  sources,  allegedly seeking advice  about how he can use his party’s majority  power to seize control of the GPC. I can only speculate that if this alleged plot succeeds the investigation into my complaint will be well and truly nobbled.

Kim IL Klive North Korean Style Dictator?
In closing I would like to remind readers of this blog that Council Leader Clive Hart’s oft repeated mantra is that Thanet Council is “open and transparent”.  I would like to  hope this is true.  But  sadly it appears to me that Clive Hart is leading a Council at which it appears to be perfectly  normal to  operate in secrecy and prevent councillors from having access to information. Improperly influence  planning officers. Undermine and  cover-up serious allegations of misconduct in public office. Fix committee memberships  in order to  nobble investigations. Dismiss honest, hard working officers who blow the whistle on their less than scrupulous colleagues.
This is no way to  lead a Council, especially a council which has recently been slated by the Local Government Association as being “toxic” and by its own Independent Standards advisers as secretive, out of touch and perceived as being corrupt. Is it any wonder that Thanet residents have no resepect for their North Korean style council.

So Come on Council Leader Hart prove me wrong, Prove to me that you really care about “openess and transparency". You can do this by demonstrating that you have no intention of allowing one of the most serious complaints ever submitted to Thanet Council from being undermined and nobbled. How?  By not applying the dirty  fix  to the GPC which I have been reliably advised you might possibly be considering. To do anything less would speak volumes about your morals.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Thanet Council Chief Exec Under Fire, Government and Cops to be Called In?

On 1 May Thanet Council’s Monitoring Officer, Mr Harvey Patterson, was made redundant, with immediate effect, by Council Chief Executive Sue McGonigal. There is doubt about whether  McGonigal had the constitutional or legal authority to take this action. Patterson’s redundancy notice period was still running and it is understood he had not indicated  he wanted to take “gardening leave”. The Council General Purposes Committee which deals with staffing matters had previously rejected McGonigal’s efforts to facilitate  Patterson’s early departure from the Council.
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 28th April,  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”.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Why Thanet Council Wants to Silence Me. The Truth

Several weeks ago I submitted  a complaint to Thanet Council about matters relating to East Kent Opportunities (EKO) a limited liability partnership which is jointly owned by Kent County Council and Thanet District Council. Thanet Council leader Clive Hart and Chief Executive Sue McGonigal are members of the EKO management board.

Last year EKO submitted a planning application to Thanet Council to build 550 houses on land they own at the New Haine Road Westwood Cross. The planning application was rejected because it was contrary to Thanet Council's planning policies. The board of EKO (including Hart and McGonigal) voted to appeal against Thanet Council's decision to reject their  planning application. The appeal will be heard later this year.  It  will take a week and cost somewhere in the region of £100,000. You will have to pay for this through your council tax.

It seems strange to me  that the 2 most powerful people at Thanet Council would support a planning application which was contrary to the policies of the Council which they run. Even stranger that they would support a massively expensive planning appeal against the council which they run, especially when its finances are extremely tight. Stranger still, Council Leader Hart is on record as  telling the  press that Thanet Labour Councillors totally oppose  the EKO planning application at New Haine  Road. I wonder if he ever told his colleague councillors that in his capacity as EKO Board member he was acting against the policies agreed by his party and which he previously espoused in the media.

But, setting aside Hart's jaw dropping hypocrisy there are  more serious issues at work here. In early March  I asked to examine the New Haine Road planning file. In that file I discovered an e-mail from Council Chief executive McGonigal dated 29 May 2013. The e-mail has already been published in the press. It said "Any news? (of a briefing document requested by McGonigal from  EKO Executive Officer Matt Hyland). I have my meeting with TDC planners this afternoon, and I need  this to illustrate the argument I want them to use to support the application". 

When I saw  this e-mail I immediately recognised its potential significance and  slipped it into my pocket when the Council officer supervising me popped out of the room. I took the e-mail home, scanned it and then advised the Council what I had done and returned the original. I took this step because I didn't want this e-mail to "disappear".

It seemed strange to me that someone who is not a qualified Town and Country Planner and someone who is also a board member of the organisation submitting the planning application would feel that it was appropriate to meet with planning officers responsible for determining   the EKO application to "illustrate the arguments I want them to use to support the application". Imagine you had submitted an application to build  an extension to your home. Would you be able to meet with the planners to "illustrate the argument you wished them to use to support the application". Course not!  

But it gets even stranger! At the time of writing this e-mail  McGonigal had already received a communication from the Council's Planning Manager advising her that the planning application from EKO was contrary to Thanet Council's planning policies. So tell me this - how can someone  meet with qualified  town planners to "illustrate the arguments I want them to use to support the application" when  they have already  advised you in writing that in their professional opinion the application cannot be granted. And it was not just one meeting with planners it was 2!  I also understand that at one of those  meetings with the planners, Mr Matt Hyland, the executive officer of EKO was present.

I wonder out loud if it is usual and regular  practice  for Thanet Council's Chief Executive to hold meetings where, as a non-qualified planner, she provides illustrations of complex technical planning arguments which her team of experienced qualified planners can use to grant planning permission for controversial applications? It all seems very unusual to me.

So what happened next? Well a reasonable person would have expected the planners to stick with their original advice - the application cannot be granted because it contravenes Thanet Council's planning policies. Well surprise, surprise, they didn't. After 2 meetings with the Chief Executive and/ or Mr Matt Hyland, the planners recommendation was to "defer for a site visit". This is an unusually rare  recommendation for planners to make.  I wonder what supernatural forces, or mind altering substances may have persuaded the planners to  ignore their previous advice,  which co-incidentally was  supported by the opinion of a planning barrister,  and replace it with a non-committal/ neutral recommendation?

I find it hard to believe that anyone would try to improperly influence the planning process by asking planners to  act against their professional judgment. This would be gross  misconduct. Most of the officers  I know at Thanet Council are dedicated, hard working and honest people and would regard such behaviour as totally  abhorrent. But nevertheless  in the interest of probity and planning transparency  I contacted the  Council asking for an investigation into the Chief Executive's e-mail and her  meetings with planners so that I could be reassured that Thanet's planning service was an honest service which had not been subject to improper influence.

I expected this investigation to be swift and that it would return a clean bill health. I was sure  that there would be perfectly reasonable explanations about my concerns. But I was wrong. As soon the Council Monitoring Officer raised my concerns the Leader of the Council, Clive Hart, demanded to know why I had not been reported to Kent Police for stealing the e-mails from the Council. He then wrote to the Chief Executive suggesting that she arrange for the matter to be reported  to the police.  It's hard to believe, that having been made aware of a serious complaint about planning probity, the only thing on the mind of Council Leader Hart is to set the Police on the person who raised the alarm. Worse still Hart then emails the person subject to my complaint  asking her to contact the Police to report me for stealing a council e-mail. Hart appears to have  been  focused  on shooting the messenger rather acting like most good leaders would do by supporting an open and transparent investigation to ensure the probity of the planning service.

Unbeknown to me, as soon as  complaint was  logged into the system a whole series of manoeuvres  and secret meetings were triggered. Efforts were made  to remove the supervision of the investigation into my complaint from the control of the Council's Monitoring Officer, Harvey Patterson and to hasten his departure from the Council following a staff re-structure.  These manoeuvres appear to have  involved Council Leader Hart  and Cabinet member Michelle Fenner supported by several senior officers. Most astonishing of all the assessor who was appointed to examine my concerns did not interview planning officers to establish whether any improper pressure had been exerted on the decision making process.

So serious were the behind the scenes  manoeuvres that the Council Monitoring Officer Patterson took the unusual step of  publishing  a 13 page letter supported by 20 pages of documentary evidence, which set  out detailed allegations about how efforts appear to have been made by senior staff and politicians  to undermine and manipulate the investigation into my complaint.

This letter was sent to members of Thanet Council's General Purposes Committee which met this week. Members of the General Purposes  Committee, incensed  by the allegations made in Mr Patterson's letter,  moved  a vote of no confidence in committee Chair, Councillor Michelle Fenner, for her alleged role in undermining the complaint management process.  4 Labour Party councillors - Allan Poole (Michelle Fenner's partner), Michelle Fenner, Harry Scobie and Peter Campbell voted  to support the Chair and 6 councillors voted against the Chair. Incredibly, with a vote of no confidence clearly against her, Fenner refused to leave the Chair. One member, obviously annoyed by her actions, asked if her conscience was not troubling her about staying in the Chair when a majority of members didn't want her there. Clearly not.

The meeting then moved on to discuss the investigators report which found there was no case to answer with regard to my complaint. However a majority of councillors at the meeting were so concerned about the contents of the Monitoring Officer Letter and the fact that planning officers had not been interviewed, that they voted to take legal advice about the implications of rejecting the investigators report. 

Shortly after the meeting I was provided with a copy of the Monitoring Officer letter by another councillor.  I spent  the remainder of the evening reading the letter.  To say that it was dynamite was an understatement. Extremely serious allegations of misconduct were made against senior staff and  political leaders. These allegations were backed up with supporting documentary evidence. I felt I had no alternative but to publish the letter in the public interest, especially because, less than 24 hours before, Thanet Council had been slated by the Local Government Association Peer Review for dysfunctionality  and bad behaviour. The next day I put the letter up on my  blogsite and within a couple   
of hours of publication I received an e-mail from Thanet Council advising me to take down the letter or face legal action.

Yesterday the Council Chief Executive Sue McGonigal informed Monitoring Officer Patterson  that he had been made redundant from the Council with immediate effect. He was ordered to clear his desk under supervision and escorted from  the building. There is growing anger amongst many councillors about the actions of the Chief Executive and  doubt is being expressed about whether  she had  the authority to take this action. The Council's Labour leadership still appear to be backing McGonigal, but I wonder how long Labour councillors will continue to defend what appears to be more and more indefensible?

So there you have it. My complaint about alleged improper conduct by the Chief Executive in relation to a major planning  application appears to the Monitoring Officer to have  unleashed a high-level political and officer effort to undermine a  fair and proper  investigation. I am threatened and gagged by the Council for publishing, in the public interest,  the  Monitoring Officer letter. The Monitoring Officer is made redundant with immediate effect and escorted from the Council Offices.  Why on earth would  Council Leader Hart, some of his cabinet colleagues and several senior members of staff conduct and/ or promote such alleged misbehaviour if there was nothing to hide? As my mother used to say to me if it talks like a duck it must be a duck..