Lewisham LBC’s elected mayor Damien Egan (Lab) helped to appoint the chief executive who has departed after just seven months in post as the council takes “a new direction”.
This comes as more than 1,100 people have signed an online petition protesting against Ian Thomas’ sudden departure.
LGC understands Mr Thomas, who was appointed before Mr Egan won the borough’s mayoral election in May, found it difficult to work with one another.
A spokesperson for the council confirmed to LGC that Mr Egan was on the appointments panel that chose Mr Thomas for the chief executive post last March.
Council minutes record the mayor, who was then a councillor, as being present as a voting member at both shortlisting and appointment meetings, even though these occurred in the last few weeks of the administration of his predecessor Sir Steve Bullock (Lab).
LGC previously reported how a Lewisham council spokesperson said: “Since May 2018, the new administration in Lewisham has reviewed its ways of working. With no negative reflection on Ian, it has been decided to take a new direction and following a constructive dialogue with Ian, he has agreed to step aside from his role at the end of this year.” Lewisham declined to explain to LGC what the nature of the new direction is.
Executive director for resources and regeneration Janet Senior has since been appointed interim chief executive.
A petition calling for Mr Egan to stop his “attack” on Mr Thomas had received 1,130 signatures by Thursday morning.
Launched by Dean Davis, who appears to be a local resident, the petition credited Mr Thomas with working well with the borough’s ethnic minority communities and demanded “complete clarity on what direction Damien Egan wanted to go in that opposed the direction of Ian Thomas.”
Jo Miller, president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers and Doncaster MBC chief executive, previously expressed concern Mr Thomas had fallen “victim to whim” at a time when there is a need to increase black, Asian and minority ethnic representation among the sector’s most senior positions.
Ms Miller said Mr Thomas “did an outstanding job” as Rotherham MBC’s children and young people strategic director and had “set a course to modernise Lewisham alongside an incoming mayor”.
“Lewisham appear to have done a modernisation U-turn without reason and it is a real concern that, increasingly often, talented professionals are cast aside carelessly,” she said.