An emergency meeting of Peterborough City Council has been called for August 31 to decide what should be done about its £110,000 a year director of legal and governance and monitoring officer Rochelle Tapping.
Ms Tapping has neither been suspended nor placed on gardening leave but councillors are being asked to convene a ‘politically balanced’ investigation and disciplinary committee of at least five members.
They are likely then to meet and appoint an independent investigator to examine the details of the concerns about Ms Tapping; these have not been made public.
Terms of reference of an investigation and disciplinary committee are set out in a paper to be put before councillors on August 31.
Its brief is to “consider allegations made against the statutory post holders referred to” and to decide what happens next.
The committee could decide on further action or “that there is some minor fault or error on behalf of the officer, but the matter can be resolved with an informal un-recorded warning”.
The committee also can decide that there are grounds for an independent disciplinary investigation – it is then an independent investigator will be appointed.
Councillors will hear an outline of the path an independent investigator might take, and this includes determining “if the officer should be suspended”.
That will need the most senior level of authority at the council to put into practice and then reviewed regularly about the “the continuance of the suspension of the officer should it exceed two months and conduct further reviews of the suspension at least every two months from the date of the previous review.
“It is the responsibility of the independent investigator to determine the approach to the investigation”.
Once a report is ready, the investigator will present his or her report to the committee where witnesses will be called.
As monitoring officer Ms Tapping is one of the five principal officers of the city council and is described as the “guardian of the council’s constitution and the decision-making process.
“She is responsible for advising the council on the legality of its decisions and providing guidance to councillors and officers on the council’s constitutions and its powers”.
In a four-page report to the extraordinary council meeting, Ms Tapping describes in one part – under the heading ‘unlawful decision’ – a minutiae of detail but says it is her duty, to report any contravention of the law.
“Although this matter indirectly relates to the current monitoring officer, a position that the report author occupies, the s5 duty (section 5 of the local government act of 1989) may only be delegated to a deputy where the monitoring officer is unable to, owing to absence or illness.
“Further the duty requires the monitoring officer to report to full council personally (s5-7) of the Act.
“The current monitoring officer is neither absent or ill and therefore has produced this report.”
It is a far cry from last October when the city council announced her appointment following “a nationwide search and extensive recruitment process, with the council’s employment committee interviewing shortlisted candidates”.
Ms Tapping joined the council on November 14 after a five-month stint as assistant director legal services and deputy monitoring officer at Birmingham City Council.
Prior to that she had been at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority for two and a half years, the last year as head of legal, deputy monitoring officer and data protection officer.
On her appointment to Peterborough City Council, she said that “financial sustainability and good governance go hand in hand and are paramount to the council.
“Peterborough is rising to its challenges and championing change, with an improvement journey that will positively benefit residents.
“Officers and members are committed to the success of the council, and this is great to see. I really look forward to joining and the great achievements ahead.”
Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald, leader of Peterborough City Council, said of her appointment: “It is great news that we have attracted someone of the calibre of Rochelle to Peterborough and I look forward to working with her.
With the opportunities and challenges ahead of us in Peterborough we need someone who can hit the ground running and with Rochelle’s extensive local government experience I believe she can do just that.”
Previously the role of director of legal and governance was shared with Cambridgeshire County Council.
In her publicly released paper to full council, Ms Tapping references an independent panel that was due to sit on August 14 to begin the investigatory process.
She described the panel as “illegitimately constituted” and said it contravened local government procedures as only a full council meeting could appoint panel members.
Relevant sections of the legislation are outlined, before she adds that a report was prepared initially for full council on July 26 which sought to establish an independent panel.
No details were provided of appointments to the panel, and no recommendation to delegate appointments to the officers and she writes of “ambiguous wording” within the document.
Ms Tapping said she had raised concerns both on July 24 and July 26 to chief executive Matt Gladstone “but those concerns were subsequently ignored.
“Full council then approved the recommendations within that report, as there was no legally qualified person in attendance to advise full council in relation to matters of concern”.
Ms Tapping said legal opinion was sought from Timothy Straker, KC, which she says confirmed that independent persons must be appointed by full council “if not, then that hearing is illegitimately constituted”.
One of initiatives introduced by Ms Tapping during her time at Peterborough has been a move to ensure councillors and officers who serve on council owned companies require better training.
She also called for a new officer led unit to over council owned companies and to ensure company had a lead officer.
Ms Tapping is also member director of Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), the professional membership body representing, promoting, and supporting the interests of local government legal or governance officers working within a local authority. T
4,304 solicitors are registered as working in local government
Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) was formed in April 2013 by the merger of the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (ACSeS) and Solicitors in Local Government (SLG).
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