THE CHIEF executive of Stratford District Council has been forced out by the authority’s leader in a bid to gain more power and control.
That was the accusation made by Labour councillor Jason Fojtik against Coun Chris Saint following the announcement incumbent chief executive Paul Lankester had chosen to take voluntary redundancy as part of a management shake-up.
The Counservative-led authority recently revealed it would need to cut £1million from its budget every year for the next five years.
And although there will be an annual saving of £100,000-a-year through the senior management restructure, Coun Fojtik pointed out the cost of Mr Lankester’s departure and redundancy package would come to just under £390,000.
Coun Fojtik told members of the authority’s Full Council that Coun Saint had effectively made Mr Lankester “an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
He also claimed he had “deliberately manipulated” the situation as he did not like “an independent, strong-minded chief executive, who was not afraid to question his decisions.”
Shortly after Coun Fojtik began his speech, Chairman Mike Gittus ordered members of the press and public to be removed from the council chamber so the debate could continue in closed session.
After around half an hour they were allowed to re-enter at which point councillors agreed to rubber stamp the management restructure and budget.
Responding to what he called an “unwarranted and unjustified personal attack”, Coun Saint said: “Operating without a chief executive is not an opening for any leader to transfer to an ego-boosting exercise.
“A management restructure is designed to be part of an effective refocus for an administration. It is a pity Coun Fojtik, in his desire to score political points, has descended to slanderous personal comments.
“His remarks are to be regretted as they bring disgrace upon himself rather than the target of his invective.”
Coun Saint maintained the management restructure was legally compliant. He added: “I have no aspiration other than to perform my duties as a leader.
“I look forward to working with colleagues in the new structure with senior managers who are refreshed and energised by new duties.”
Mr Lankester was not present at the meeting but after councillors voted to back the new management structure, a statement was read out on his behalf.
It said: “I would like to thank the council for giving me the privilege to be its chief executive. It has been an honour to serve and represent the council and its communities over this time.
“I would also like to thank staff and partners for the tremendous support I have received. The staff are an invaluable asset and have made my role a lot easier than it might have been.
“It only remains for me to wish the council well in all it faces into the future. I have every confidence the staff can be depended on to do their jobs to the best of their ability, which will enable the council to remain successful and well-regarded.”
Mr Lankester replaced Ian Prosser in 2001 and guided the council from being ‘weak’ performing in 2005 to ‘good’ just two years later.
But after 15 years in the top job, he is now set to leave at the end of this month with the new management structure expected to be in place by April 1.