'Bullying' accusation as council selects interim chief executive

Martin Slack

A SENIOR councillor broke down in tears yesterday during a chaotic debate over who should take over at Doncaster Council following the resignation of its chief executive.

Yvonne Woodcock, chairman of the authority’s chief officers’ appointments committee, started to make a statement saying she wanted to “change her mind” over her preferred candidate.

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She then immediately sat down, but later in the debate was asked to continue and managed to say she had been “badgered” over the situation before crying and leaving the chamber.

Tory councillor Mrs Woodcock and Labour group leader Joe Blackham, deputy chairman of the appointments committee, had to act after Paul Hart resigned from the council’s top job last week.

Both councillors originally recommended that the authority’s current director of resources Tim Leader take over, but yesterday Mrs Woodcock said she wanted to back Robin Hooper instead.

Mr Hooper, the current deputy director of children’s services, was the preferred candidate of elected mayor Peter Davies, who said during yesterday’s meeting he supported his appointment.

A report was presented to the council by Kay Leigh, the authority’s director of people and performance improvement, which asked members to ratify Mr Leader as the interim chief executive.

But a discussion then took place, during which Mr Davies made it clear he wanted to support Mr Hooper, adding he had not been consulted over the appointment of the new chief officer.

He said: “I have to say it is absolutely outrageous that I have no say over the person that I have to live and work with on a daily basis, but we are where we are.

“As mayor I wish to propose that Robin Hooper becomes interim chief executive until a permanent appointment is made.”

After further interventions in the debate by several members of the council, Mrs Woodcock was then asked to speak again by council chairman Ros Jones, but immediately became tearful.

Stifling sobs, she managed to say: “It has been very difficult this last week. I have been badgered from here to there by all sorts of people. It is very complicated and I am resigning from the chair from now.”

She then handed her statement to fellow Tory councillor Barbara Hoyle, who was sitting next to her, and left the chamber in tears – leaving Mrs Hoyle to continue with the rest of the statement.

It said: “As chairman of the committee, I have decided that in the best interests of the authority, the council should nominate Roger Hooper as interim chief executive with immediate effect.”

Further heated debate then continued among councillors over whether Mr Hooper could be introduced as a second candidate after the initial report and recommendation had been made.

Legal advice was taken and it was decided that councillors must vote simply on whether to accept Mr Leader or not, and that Mr Hooper could not be introduced as a candidate after all.

A recorded vote was taken and Mr Leader’s appointment was carried by 38 votes to 15, with three members of the council abstaining.

Before the vote was taken Labour councillor John Mounsey expressed concern over what he called “bullying” and said those responsible for the situation should be “ashamed of themselves”.

Mr Leader will take over as chief executive and head of the paid service at Doncaster Council with immediate effect and it is expected that it will take nine months to appoint a permanent replacement.