A ‘GAGGING order’ has been imposed on all 46 Teignbridge councillors over details of their boss Nicola Bulbeck’s generous leaving package.
The council’s CEO, who leaves today after 11 years in the hot seat, will be riding off into the sunset with a farewell handshake worth more than a quarter-of-a-million pounds.
It is understood that she has been given £130,000 redundancy pay and £130,000 towards her pension – but councillors have been sworn to secrecy over the amounts involved.
Last year Ms Bulbeck prompted outrage after accepting a 12 per cent pay rise out of the public purse. Her basic pay rocketed to £125,000.
None of the councillors contacted this week would be drawn on revealing the exact figures, with some confirming they could face legal action if they did.
The council report papers which revealed the details were discussed in a private session of the full council on May 15.
Each slip was counted out and counted back to prevent any leaking of documents.
One councillor claimed the information was shredded after the meeting.
The Mid-Devon Advertiser asked the council, which prides itself on being open and transparent, to confirm the figures involved. It refused.
Leader Cllr Jeremy Christophers insisted last year that ‘Teignbridge proactively and routinely publishes all possible data to enhance our transparency and accountability and help residents understand how we work.’
However, this week Cllr Christophers refused to comment on the specifics of the package – but did say it contained exempt information. That was why it had been kept from the public.
Asked if he felt it was fair that public money was being spent in secret, he refused to comment and the interview was terminated.
Fellow Tory Stuart Barker was adamant that Ms Bulbeck wasn’t being paid off. The settlement, he maintained, was in line with the council’s policies.
The Mid-Devon Advertiser then contacted every councillor to quiz them about the deal, the equivalent of at least 11 times the average Teignbridge wage in 2012. Each and everyone kept mum on the sum.
During inquiries it emerged that the council’s monitoring officer, Neil Aggett, emailed all members advising them to say nothing.
The email reads: ‘I understand the Mid-Devon Advertiser is ringing and asking some councillors questions about the chief executive’s departure. You may get a call.
‘The reporter may quote figures at you for comment. You are advised to say you have no comment on what he said and refer the reporter to Emma Pearcy, the council’s communications manager for comment.’
The hush-hush approach from the council comes amid reports that legal action had been discussed if details of Ms Bulbeck’s leaving package was disclosed.
Nineteen councillors point-blank refused to comment on the matter while four members – including the council leader – ended the conversation with the paper.
Deputy leader Humphrey Clemens said: ‘The only information you’ll get is from the council.’
Cllr Clemens said the information was private and would remain that way. He felt it was fair that the information was being withheld from the public domain.
Details of why Nicola Bulbeck was leaving – and any subsequent career plans – were also not being shared by the authority.
On Monday afternoon the Mid-Devon Advertiser asked the council to comment on the figures – but 48 hours later all the district authority could say was it ‘had nothing further to add’ to a statement it released after last month’s full council meeting.