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Councillors call for answers over borough's handling of managing director's departure

The council’s handling of its managing director’s departure ‘smacks of quick-fix, desperate deals behind closed doors’, an opposition councillor has said.

Councillors attended a meeting at Maidenhead Town Hall on Monday to approve splitting the duties of the Royal Borough’s Alison Alexander – who is due to leave in May – between two council officers.

The ‘extraordinary meeting’ – previously unscheduled – saw Russell O’Keefe, a senior council officer whose brief includes planning and finance, approved as acting managing director and David Scott, head of communities, enforcement and partnerships, appointed electoral returning officer.

Last month, the council released a statement which said Ms Alexander had ‘decided to step back from day-to-day operations’ next May after five-and-a-half years at the borough, but did not explain her reasons for leaving, or what her responsibilities at the council would be.

Speaking to the Advertiser yesterday (Wednesday), Cllr Paul Brimacombe (Ind Con, Cox Green) said he had ‘insufficient information’ about the circumstances of Ms Alexander’s departure – still due for May– to vote on Mr O’Keefe and Mr Scott’s appointments.

At the meeting, council leader Simon Dudley (Con, Riverside) described Ms Alexander’s situation as ‘gardening leave’ – a phrase the council had not used previously.

At the meeting, Cllr Brimacombe said he had previously thought that Ms Alexander had been on ‘extended leave’.

He added: “It smacks of quick-fix, desperate deals behind closed doors-type of politics, rather than the open and accountable politics that RBWM professes.”

He said councillors had been told ‘there was no crisis and the plan was for Alison Alexander to provide continuity until May’.

Cllr David Hilton (Con, Ascot & Cheapside) said ‘there is knowledge of why this (Ms Alexander’s situation) happened, I won’t go into that’ and did not elaborate on that remark.

Cllr Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) said he was ‘perplexed’ by the shift from Ms Alexander making an ‘orderly retreat from the council over long months’ to ‘a panic measure’ to vote in Mr O’Keefe and Mr Scott without explanation. He pressed Cllr Dudley for more details about what led to Ms Alexander being put on gardening leave and said he had heard ‘the Conservative group are in the know’.

But Cllr Dudley instead directed opposition councillors to the Royal Borough press release last month, which described her as stepping back, which ‘dissatisfied’ Cllr Brimacombe, who described it yesterday as a ‘thin response’.

The motion to vote in Mr O’Keefe and Mr Scott was carried by 26 votes with three councillors abstaining and five members of opposition group Not the Administration voting against.

Cllr Brimacombe made it clear that the votes against the motion are not reflective of Mr O’Keefe and Mr Scott but directed at the lack of explanation from leadership about Ms Alexander’s planned departure.

Cllr Dudley and the Royal Borough were approached for comment.


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