Amid claims council chief executive Ruth Bagley ushered a long serving finance expert out of council offices on Monday 29 November 2010, a colleague answering the expert's office telephone this week denied the expert was suspended.
The colleague sounded shocked and worried when a Slough Times reporter asked if the finance expert had been suspended. The colleague said the person was away indefinitely for the short term but was confident the person would eventually, in the long term, resume his work at the council.
A senior council officer refused to confirm or to deny the gentleman had been suspended. The officer explained they could not discuss the personal circumstances.
A Slough Party approach to the Council for information failed. Slough Party chairman Paul Janik told the Slough Times that Slough Council is one of the most secretive organisations in the country and the council had a bad record for openness and public accountability.
Sources inside the council revealed Slough Council had:-
... suspended a member of staff from the finance team.
The suspension follows a serious complaint being made. An
investigation is underway. The complaint does not relate to any financial
Slough Council stated the suspended employee is a council director / assistant director.
The employee has had several titles whilst employed at Slough Council including Assistant Finance Director and Deputy Resources Director.
Slough Council has disconnected the employee's telephone line. It appears he may not be returning to his job at the council any time soon.
Later when The Slough Times asked why the telephone line had been cut-off, Slough Council declared the council was unable to reply and the council had to formerly document the Slough Times enquiry as a Freedom of Information Request which often means waiting several months for an answer. Slough Borough Council's FOI requests are handled by chief executive Ruth Bagley's office.
Within 10 minutes of our enquiry the council began diverting all calls to the employee's line to the Director of Children's services.
Slough Council solicitor Elizabeth Jenkins emailed The Slough Times at 14:14 hours . . .
I note your article of the 9th December 2010 entitled "Slough
Council's Top Official Suspended", and must draw your attention to
aspects of that article being inaccurate, misleading and potentially
I would request you to remove the article immediately.
Mrs Jenkins gave no other details.
As a solicitor Mrs Jenkins knew she should give sufficient details of the "inaccurate, misleading and potentially defamatory" words. However Mrs Jenkins deliberately omitted that important information from her "remove the article immediately" demand.
Was Mrs Jenkins' complaint really about alleged inaccurate reporting or an another of the usual bullying, intimidating and harassing attempts by Slough's failing borough council to muzzle a small start-up news service that dared to publish a story about Slough's "excellent" local council ?
In under two hours, at 16:07, The Slough Times emailed Elizabeth Jenkins and her boss, chief council solicitor Maria Memoli, urgently seeking full details of the alleged offending words . . .
To: Maria Memoli, SBC chief solicitor & Statutory Monitoring Officer
Date: Friday, 17 December 2010
"We want our articles to be as accurate as possible. Please tell us what is inaccurate so we can quickly correct the inaccuracy.
"We do not want any of our articles to be misleading. Please tell us what is misleading so we can quickly correct the misleading item.
"We do not want to defame any person. Please identify the defamatory item so we can quickly correct it.
"Someone will be on call throughout the weekend ready to respond to your enlightening and informative reply and to amend or remove anything genuinely 'inaccurate, misleading and potentially defamatory'.
"Please do let us have the necessary identifying information as speedily as possible because we take all complaints very seriously."
Complete silence ensured from Slough Borough Council.
The Slough Times emailed chief council solicitor Maria Memoli and her fellow solicitor Elizabeth Jenkins asking the name(s) of the people Slough Borough Council were representing in this matter.
Complete silence ensured from Slough Borough Council.
The Slough Times emailed Slough Borough Council's chief executive Ruth Bagley seeking an explanation. No response from Slough Borough Council.
A Slough Times reporter telephoned council solicitor Elizabeth Jenkins who refused to identify the alleged "offending" words. Mrs Jenkins said Maria Memoli would reply on the following day (Thursday). Strange behaviour from someone who had in the previous week demanded "I would request you to remove the article immediately."
An anonymous caller to The Slough Times, claiming to be a former employee in the same department as the suspended employee, said there was an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation in the department which reduced staff morale causing about 10 of the circa 40 staff to leave in the last 2 years.
The Slough Times can not corroborate these claims. We have our suspicion it was a call instigated at the direction of chief executive Ruth Bagley. We ask other staff, past and present, to call us on 01753-511911 for a confidential chat. We will bring you more information from Slough's most secretive and unaccountable organisation as soon as we get it.
"I do not intend to enter into lengthy correspondence with you.
"Your article is inaccurate and misleading in several instances:
"References to the Chief Executive are inaccurate."
". . . references to the council are disingenuous and untrue"
"The suspended officer is entitled to a fair investigation.
"Please ensure that any information on your website relating to Slough Borough Council is accurate and fair according to fair processing of information.
Curious about Maria Memoli's claim References to the Chief Executive are inaccurate. The Slough Times is asking SBC chief executive Ruth Bagley to identify the "inaccurate" words and to reveal the "inaccurate, misleading and potentially defamatory" material claimed by council solicitor Elizabeth Jenkins.
To: Ruth Bagley, SBC Chief Executive
Date: Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Maria Memoli claims "References to the Chief Executive are inaccurate." Only two brief items mentioned you at the time council solicitor Elizabeth Jenkins wrote complaining about the article. Kindly clarify:
(a) Whether you were present at any time commencing with the process of the employee being asked to leave the council building and concluding with the employee physically leaving the building ?
(b) Have you removed Freedom of Information requests and appeals coordination and processing from (your own department) the Chief Executive's Department ?
Please reveal which individuals Slough Borough Council is representing in this matter and the date you authorised council resources to be used for that purpose.
Please reveal the words Slough Borough Council is complaining are "inaccurate, misleading and potentially defamatory." and state why they are considered "inaccurate, misleading and potentially defamatory." I am sure that once you have revealed that much sought detail, all "inaccurate, misleading and" actually "defamatory" material can be removed promptly.
Was this "genuine" concern by senior council staff or just another example of bullying and intimidation by, unelected by the public and unaccountable to the public, senior Slough Council staff ?
It is time for a wholesale reform of English Local Government with the objective of making council bosses directly accountable to the local public they are paid, very generously, to serve. The public have no choice of service supplier and, at the moment, they have no say in how senior council staff behave and how they spend public funds.
We rang Slough Borough Council and spoke to members of staff. When we asked to speak to the suspended employee we were told he was not in. We were offered the lady "standing-in for him". We asked if he was away sick and were assured he was not sick. When we asked if we could call next week and speak with him, we were told "That is not possible." We were also told they did not know if he would return to his work at Slough Borough Council.
Our impression was council staff have been ordered to avoid saying anything which might let the public know what is happening at their local council.