Tameside council chief resigns following tweet about Conservative voter

Inappropriate comments led to the resignation of the Council CEO. – Owl

Josh Halliday www.theguardian.com 

A long-serving council chief executive has resigned after he posted a tweet expressing surprise that a Conservative voter could show “compassion and empathy”.

Steven Pleasant, the head of Tameside council in Greater Manchester, made the remark about an audience member on the BBC’s Question Time before last month’s local elections.

In the now-deleted post sent from his work account, @tmbc_chiefexec, he wrote: “She was good. Tory voter with compassion and empathy for others. Who knew!”

Pleasant, who had run the council since 2009, was also the authority’s returning officer and oversaw the local elections on 5 May – despite anger from the area’s Conservatives.

His tweet was due to be discussed at an extraordinary full council meeting on 14 June but Pleasant announced in advance that he would step down.

Pleasant apologised a few days later, saying the post was “not considered” and he “should have worded any sentiments very differently”.

However, a report by the council concluded that he had breached the statutory code for local authority publicity, in which officials must remain strictly impartial.

The report by Tameside’s monitoring officer, Sandra Stewart, stated: “A politically restricted officer, such as pre-eminently a statutory officer, must not express themselves publicly in a way that appears to have the intention of affecting public support for a political party.”

The report said the breach was aggravated by its “proximity” to the local elections six weeks later, which Pleasant went on to run as returning officer, but concluded that “no further action” was required.

Nonetheless, Pleasant resigned in a letter to councillors, MPs and council staff on Wednesday.

He said it had been “a privilege” to serve as chief executive and cited “many achievements”, such as the authority being voted council of the year and the NHS Tameside and Glossop clinical commissioning group being rated “outstanding”.

Pleasant was paid £220,000 a year, including pension contributions, to run public services for the area of about 225,000 people near Manchester. His salary is in line with the chief executives of many other large local authorities but higher than the prime minister’s £164,000 a year.

Gerald Cooney, the Labour leader of the council, said Pleasant had been a “great servant of Tameside and the local NHS”.

Pleasant and Tameside council have been contacted for comment.