Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on an outbreak of control-freakery and censorship over the conduct of the chief executive and senior council staff
Jo Negrini, Croydon’s vigorously self-promoting £185,000 a year chief executive, likes to give the impression that she conducts the business of the borough in an open and transparent way.
It is becoming increasingly clear that she does not.
And Negrini – who agreed the £3million loan that brought Boxpark to Croydon and has been a driving force behind Brick by Brick – certainly won’t allow anyone to question her own performance.
In the past few weeks, the CEO has emailed all the borough’s elected councillors in an attempt to gag them over The Godfather affair.
At the previous full council meeting, one elected councillor, Donald Speakman, from Purley, stood up to ask whether the former assistant chief executive, Graham Cadle – the council’s notorious Godfather – had received a generous golden goodbye from public funds when he departed Fisher’s Folly following the scandal.
From her seat at the top of the Town Hall chamber, Negrini leaned over to Toni Letts, the Mayor, to whisper something. Rather than insist that the council’s executive should be accountable for its conduct, Croydon’s Mayor duly offered some feeble excuse about not discussing the performance of officers (that’s council employees).
Even though Cadle was an executive director, paid £150,000 per year, and had been caught spending public money like a drunken sailor, including paying £787 per day to his family friend Harry Singh, there was to be no discussion of the circumstances of this high-profile departure.
Denied an answer to an entirely reasonable question about a senior council member of staff and their severance terms, doggedly Speakman pursued the matter again at a subsequent meeting of the council’s ethics committee (yes, they do have one…).
Once again, Negrini blocked Speakman’s question about any financial settlements which may have been paid to Cadle and to Karen Sullivan, the former head of revenues and benefits, and mother to the child which has her boss, Cadle, as its godparent.
Now, Negrini is blocking questions about her own performance and refusing to explain just what she has managed to deliver after spending £17,000 of Council Tax-payers’ money to pay for her nice little jolly to the South of France earlier this month.
This is the question, submitted by a Croydon Council Tax-payer, ahead of tonight’s meeting of the council at the Town Hall, which Negrini has refused to answer:
What was the benefit to Croydon residents to send the CEO Jo Negrini and a Brick by Brick delegation to the MIPIM Conference in Cannes in the South of France for four days at our expense?
And this is the non-response that the Council Tax-payer got:
“Thank you for the submission of your question to the next Council meeting on Monday 26 March. On this occasion your question has been ruled out by the Monitoring Officer under Part 4A of the Council’s Constitution (para. 3.17), as below: ‘Questions…relating to an individual or entity in respect of which that individual or entity has a right of recourse to a review or right of appeal conferred by or under any enactment shall not be permitted’.”
Except that this was not a question about an individual (or an “entity”), but an opportunity for the council’s most senior employee to justify her time, and our expense, for sending her and three colleagues to Cannes for three or four days to rub shoulders with Russian oligarchs, Qatari royals and Hong Kong property speculators at the booze and hookerfest that is the world’s largest property shin-dig. Or “junket” as council leader Tony Newman once described it.
So what has Jo Negrini got to hide?
Negrini’s reluctance to answer questions about her own, and her very well-paid colleagues’, performance on behalf of the people of Croydon has already been noted by Private Eye, the latest issue of which has raised the small matter of the £1.6million which official auditors last year reported had mysteriously gone missing from the council revenue account.
Will any of Croydon’s councillors dare to get on their feet tonight to ask about the “lost” £1.6million?
And will Negrini even attempt to provide some public accountability for her own performance and that of her staff?
*Have you been refused to have your written question submitted to a Town Hall meeting? Email your question and the council’s excuse to email@example.com.
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