Somerset County Council’s Tory leadership appears to be on the brink of pushing out the chief executive Sheila Wheeler – just four years after she was appointed.
If she goes she will be the second chief executive to be discarded by the Tories in recent years. Alan Jones retired in 2009 when the then Conservative leader, Ken Maddock, said he wanted “a change of direction with a new set of priorities”
Ms Wheeler has been away from work for two weeks. Among the meetings she has missed was a full council meeting which approved the latest round of Tory cuts.
“Messy battle to oust Chief Exec”
The rumours about Ms Wheeler sweeping County Hall have been backed up by an article in an authoritative local government magazine. The Municipal Journal is running an article in its latest edition under the headline: “Council heads for ‘messy battle’ to oust chief executive”
The Journal says it understands that what it calls the tricky relationship between Ms Wheeler and Tory council leader John Osman may have contributed to her current absence. It quotes a source who says: “It has blown up recently. She’s unlikely to come back to work at the council.”
Another council source said: “The current situation is very messy. It’s going to cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds to get rid of a chief executive, four years after the last time.” A council representative said: “Ms Wheeler has been off sick since last week. There is no suggestion that she is or would be suspended.”
Ideologically driven programme
The upheaval comes as the Tories – with a reduced majority – attempt to push through an ideologically-driven programme of spending cuts, job losses and outsourcing. At the time of her appointment, Ms Wheeler was described as “a key driver in helping to identify and deliver the changes we need to make.”
If this relationship has broken down, we are owed an explanation. To lose one chief executive may be regarded as unfortunate; to lose two would look like carelessness.