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Green councillor presses Mayor over continued payout secrecy

Green Councillor Paula O’Rourke has twice pressed the Mayor to establish the full truth behind the payment made to departed CEO Anna Klonowski. Following on from her email to the Mayor last Thursday, Councillor O’Rourke received a response from the Mayor in which he merely reiterated his previous refusal to explain beyond stating “Ms Klonowski was not paid any additional sum” and “left the council on the terms of the contract.”

However the Mayor’s response did not explain why Ms Klonowski was paid six months’ notice despite not working it. In an attempt to clarify, councillor O’Rourke again contacted the Mayor, pointing out that “As any contract lawyer will tell you, when the employee breaches the contract, there is no legal requirement to pay the unworked notice period. The contract only required you to pay her until she ceased work”

In her response Councillor O’Rourke asked Mayor Rees two simple questions:

1. Were you legally obliged to pay notice in lieu to the CEO?

2. Assuming that the full and honest answer to the above question is 'No', why did you choose to pay it?

And added: “Every time you've been asked not to make cuts to libraries or lollipop services, you've said, 'If you don't want me to cut this service, tell me where to make savings'. Well, here is a £70K saving that could have been made.”

The Mayor’s seventeen word response to this was:

“I have said that I will not make any further statement on what is an HR matter.”

Frustrated that the Mayor had sidestepped the question a second time, Councillor O’Rourke, herself a member of the HR committee, said:

“I would direct Marvin to the Code of Conduct that Members sign up to which under the heading ‘Being Accountable’ includes the following points:

4.1    Being accountable for my decisions and co-operating when scrutinised internally and externally, including by local residents.

4.2    Contributing to making this authority’s decision-making processes as open and transparent as possible … but restricting access to information when the wider public interest or the law requires it.

“In this case neither public interest nor the law require the Mayor’s silence. Mayor Rees’ refusal to explain his behaviour in unnecessarily awarding 6 months’ pay to the departing chief exec is inexcusable given the current climate of cuts and his repeated insistence that the city must find savings. This is money that could pay for about 15 lollipop crossing attendants to keep school crossings safe, or even protect a number of libraries. There is a genuine case of public interest here. As a Mayor who trumpets his commitment to transparency and openness, it is disappointing and concerning that he refuses to answer perfectly valid questions.

“Beyond the Mayor’s leadership, there is a wider issue here, which is that Marvin seems to believe he is unaccountable for his actions and that he can hide behind confidentiality in the repeated phrase of “it’s an HR matter.” Assuming that the reason given for Ms Klonowski’s departure – to look after a seriously ill parent – is the real and full reason, there is no justification for the Mayor to hide behind HR procedures and data protection excuses to avoid explaining his decision to Bristolians.

All I am looking for is a justification for this decision, made solely it now seems by the Mayor. His continued lack of transparency on this issue raises questions of its own and seriously suggests that there is something to hide.”

Contact:
Councillor Paula O'Rourke
Cllr.Paula.ORourke@bristol.gov.uk
07527955585

Original email to the Mayor from Councillor O’Rourke:

Dear Marvin,

I'm disappointed that you have chosen to repeat a statement previously made rather than answer my specific question. I am now forced to repeat the points, with greater clarity, in an effort to get an answer which reveals the full truth behind the resignation of the CEO.

First of all, I have never alleged that any additional payment was made, so this comment does nothing to answer my question.  

When you say that Anna left 'on the terms of the contract' that does not quite tell the full story. The CEO had a fixed term contract which required either party to give six months’ notice.  When Anna breached this contract, by resigning and not wanting to work her notice, you were no longer obliged to pay her notice in lieu.  As any contract lawyer will tell you, when the employee breaches the contract, there is no legal requirement to pay the unworked notice period. The contract only required you to pay her until she ceased work. 

You chose to pay Anna Klonowski, who worked with us for just 7 months, an extra 6 months’ salary because the contract gave you the freedom to make this choice without consulting with the HR committee. The purpose of my email was to try to elicit some justification for why you made that decision.

So, let me rephrase the question in my original email.

1. Were you legally obliged to pay notice in lieu to the CEO?

2. Assuming that the full and honest answer to the above question is 'No', why did you     choose to pay it?

You also say you have 'no idea why this point is being raised now'.  Let me tell you.

Every time you've been asked not to make cuts to libraries or lollipop services, you've said, 'If you don't want me to cut this service, tell me where to make savings'.  Well, here is a £70K saving that could have been made.  

I assert that you did not need to make this payment to the CEO, question your decision to do so and require a full and honest answer.

Kind Regards,

Councillor Paula O'Rourke

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