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Somerset County Council defends £55,000 legal bill for Sheila Wheeler's departure

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: April 01, 2014

The departure of Sheila Wheeler cost Somerset County Council taxpayers £115,000, it has been admitted

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Somerset County Council has defended a massive £115,000 of taxpayers' cash paid out during the drawn-out departure of former chief executive Sheila Wheeler, which has been previously criticised as a 'waste of of time, effort and money'.

Of that sum, £55,000 went on legal costs, with £20,000 of the remainder paid as salary during her absence, which began in December, and £40,000 covered three months wages in lieu of notice. It has also paid out £109,000 defending itself on another, unrelated, matter.

Mrs Wheeler left the council 'by mutual consent' in February after an absence first revealed by the Western Daily Press.

A spokesman for the council said: "In any dispute with a chief executive officer, a council has to follow nationally agreed statutory guidelines and appoint an independent barrister.

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"Somerset County Council complied with this statutory process, and the cost for this process has now been published and totals £55,000.

"These are the only legal costs directly relating to the departure of the then chief executive in February and include costs for drawing up the legal agreement signed by both sides."

The council also announced that an additional £109,000 was also spent 'defending itself against a complaint against several individuals within the council.'

The council say these were not related to the departure of Mrs Wheeler and they were dealt with through an independent process. The council declined to comment further for legal reasons.

Tessa Munt, the Liberal Democrat MP for Wells, last month criticised Mrs Wheeler's departure and the way in which it had been dealt with, including a debate on the issue behind closed doors.

Mrs Wheeler arrived at Somerset County Council in 2009. Previously she worked for Adur District Council, Surrey County Council and the London Borough of Hounslow.

Speaking in February, Mrs Wheeler said it was up to the council to say why she was off, but that the ordeal had been "difficult".

She added: "There's an agreement in place, it has taken a long time to get there, that's all there is to say really."

Until a replacement is appointed, Patrick Flaherty, the deputy chief executive, will take over Mrs Wheeler's role.

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  • StanStill  |  April 01 2014, 10:49AM

    Funny how she was well liked and got on with everyone, until that Solicitor from Wells joined the top team. He thinks he knows it all and doesn't like being told, pompous and arrogant.