WIGAN town hall officers have been told they are being bugged by their own councillors.
And the local authority’s chief executive has also warned staff to beware of being pressurised into revealing information to members for political gain.
Donna Hall spoke out in a communication to employees after the Evening Post revealed that Lib Dem Coun Robert Bleakley was being investigated by police after admitting maliciously altering an officer’s email to suggest the council’s director of economy was being biased against opposition councillors.
We also revealed that opposition members are planning to hit back after deciding at an all-independent groups’ meeting to demand Ms Hall’s dismissal.
She assured her staff today that she will “stand up for your rights” alongside the local authority unions to stamp out increasing cases of councillors’ attempting to “bully” officers for their own ends.
She accepted that only a “handful” of elected members were involved.
Leader of the council Lord Smith said that it was shocking that a tiny group of councillors was trying to undermine the chief executive.
And leader of the opposition, Coun Gary Wilkes, agreed that “action must be taken against unruly councillors.
Ms Hall’s internal communication read: “Officers have been secretly recorded by councillors with recording devices concealed in their pockets.
“If you suspect your conversation is being recorded without your permission, either in a face-to-face meeting or over the phone, please ask the question directly to the councillor and if you still feel uncomfortable, you have my permission to terminate the conversation.
“Officers have been subjected to harassment both in person and on the phone and, in my view, the council has been too tolerant in the past.
“I want to remind you that you do not work for individual councillors. Your contract of employment is with the whole council.
“Do not feel pressurised into providing information, services or equipment that you are not authorised to provide by your line manager.”
She pointed out that the council’s own member/officer protocol states that if officers receive a rude or abusive email they can reply by stating to the councillor from the outset that such communications will not be tolerated “and leave it at that”.
If a councillor is rude to an officer on the phone on the phone, the officer has the chief executive’s express approval to politely terminate the call and report the matter.
She added that the calls to sack her by opposition members were because some were unhappy by the way she was standing up to unacceptable behaviour.
Lord Smith said: “It is shocking that a tiny group of councillors have tried to undermine the chief executive by calling for her dismissal.
“After secret meetings, they are proposing this to cover up their own behaviour which includes fraud and secret recording of meetings. I believe in part the tactic to attack Donna Hall is because she is a woman.”
Coun Wilkes said: “Wigan Independent Network fully endorses the chief executive’s comments and we support action to bring these councillors to account.”