Thursday, 8 November 2007

EXCLUSIVE: Council deputy chief executive quits just months into Independent control

THE officer who was second-in-command of West Somerset Council is quitting his post, just six months after political control of the authority was taken over by Independent councillors.
Deputy chief executive and director of finance Rod Latham has decided to take voluntary redundancy and early retirement to ‘pursue other areas of interest’.
The move comes just six weeks after council leader Councillor Keith Ross publicly admitted his administration was in such a state that the Government might have to step in and take over the running of the authority with its own team of auditors.
Mr Latham had faced increasing hostility from Independent candidates who were elected on the back of a campaign by Lib Dem-sponsored pressure group Direct to stop the sale of Minehead’s Vulcan Road car park for a supermarket development.
As the finance officer, it was Mr Latham who was considered the ‘brains’ behind such asset disposals and projects, including the sale of the Clanville Road car park in Minehead for housing and the council’s involvement in the £50 million New Horizons health, education, leisure, skills, and housing scheme.
As well as directing finance and assisting with the council’s corporate aims during the past eight years, Mr Latham was also a leading figure in the council’s Community Zone, formerly known as Unit 5, which was tasked with delivering many of the projects which Direct and many of the now-Independent councillors fought against.
Council media officer Stacey Beaumont told The Post: “The Community Zone is intrinsic to delivering community priorities in West Somerset, such as the district’s four Surestart Centres, affordable housing, and the ambitious New Horizons project which aims to bring health, learning and leisure benefits to local people.
“Mr Latham was also the main architect of the council’s assistance to the business community during the Foot and Mouth crisis.”
Chief executive Tim Howes, who was originally a target for the newly-elected Independent candidates but has so far survived, said: “Rod has helped shape innovative new ways of working at the council that will enable it to become a modern local authority.
“We will miss his knowledge and support, and wish him well in the future.”
Council leader, Councillor Keith Ross, said: “Rod has laid the foundations for a range of excellent community projects, such as the eco-friendly housing development at Carhampton, the development of workspace across the district, and New Horizons.
“We will continue to build on these foundations.”
Mr Latham leaves the council on Friday, November 9, and the authority has now had to hire a temporary ‘Section 151 officer’ - an officer responsible in law for its financial affairs - to fulfil its statutory responsibility until he is replaced.

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