From a correspondent:
The combined roles of Chief Executive Officer, Head of paid services (Human Resources in corporate speak)with that of electoral “Returning Officer”, places a lot of power in one pair of hands.
Let us review some recent history of leadership in EDDC.
The EDDC Chief Executive has been hauled in front of a Commons Committee in 2014; corporate management severely admonished by an Information Tribunal Judge in 2015; and auditors, in 2016, found weaknesses in accounting for S106 payments. All this raises questions about the oversight and accountability of senior management at EDDC.
In 2014 Mark Williams was called to the Commons Committee to explain how 6,000 (typo corrected Owl) voters came to be missing from the electoral roll.
Judge Kennedy, in his Decision Notice of May 2015 on the Information Tribunal concerning EDDC’s refusal to release five documents related to the Knowle move, concluded that EDDC had: “displayed discourtesy and unhelpfulness” throughout.
Specific criticism included: “Correspondence on behalf of the Council, rather than ensuring the Tribunal was assisted in its function, was at times discourteous and unhelpful including the statement that we had the most legible copies possible. A statement, which was clearly inaccurate…”
(During the Tribunal hearing the then deputy Chief Executive, Richard Cohen, also made the extraordinary admission that he had not given an original version of a document to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee but an “amended” one.)
A freedom of information (FOI) request in 2016 concerning S106 arrangements and payments between 2014 and 2016 (as Cranbrook development was underway), revealed EDDC held no information on whether there had been any breach of obligation on the part of developers or how much money was owed, possibly going back much earlier.
In a subsequent formal complaint to the newly appointed external auditors, KPMG found, after sampling cases over just one year, rather than any forensic analysis over many, that there had been a quarter of a million pounds understatement in the past year’s accounts. KPMG concluded: “Given the weaknesses identified in the Council’s controls, it is possible that understatements of a similar scale or even larger could be apparent at any point in time.”
Then there are examples of how thin-skinned and dismissive Mark Williams can be in dealing with members of the public. However irritating members of the public may be, it is surely inexcusable for a senior public servant to behave in such a way. Using this tone, the Chief Executive does not come across as impartial. Many of us have had similar experiences when trying to make a complaint.
Where are the checks and balances on this power?
A job description was revealed through a 2014 FOI request. Compared to other local authorities it is a bit thin. The key point is that nowhere does it specify who the CEO is personally accountable to. A recent online search for a more up to date job description proved fruitless.
These historic events are disturbing, demonstrating an executive making significant mistakes and seemingly impervious to criticism. It is in this context that the Tories lost control in 2019 and “New Guard” took over in 2020.
Where does the buck stop? How do you hold the CEO to account?