Published: 09:00, 12 May 2014
The leader of Thanet Council has resigned after launching a scathing attack on a political opponent.
Cllr Clive Hart, who has recently fought against the closure of Manston Airport and campaigned for reducing teenage pregnancies and against the misuse of alcohol, has said he can no longer be leader in a dispute with Green Cllr Ian Driver.
In a blunt resignation statement the leader - who has been on the council for more than 10 years - hit out at the councillor's alleged "futile and vexatious complaints and information requests" during council meetings.
It came just days before councillors were due to meet this week for their annual meeting, although it is unclear whether there was to be a vote on which party should lead the council.
But it was thought Labour would continue to run the council for the time being.
In a lengthy resignation statement first posted on his Facebook page, Cllr Hart hit out at one of his most persistent critics, the Green councillor Ian Driver.
He went on to claim the actions of a tiny minority of councillors on the Labour-led authority had "overshadowed all the good work of the council, our staff and our partners in incredibly difficult times for our district. I simply cannot continue to take responsibility for a council which has such toxic behaviour within it.”
But Cllr Driver hit back swiftly, saying he was a "convenient scapegoat for Cllr Hart.
He said: "I make no apology for anything. What motivates me is openness and transparency in local government. Under Clive Hart there has been a regime of secrecy."
He added the resignation had taken him by surprise. "I was completely astonished," he said. "I had not expected it, but there has been a lot of pressure on him."
Cllr Hart said it had been "an absolute honour and privilege to represent the area I truly love and adore and I simply cannot thank Thanet residents and TDC staff enough for such a wonderful, once in a lifetime, experience."
Cllr Richard Nicholson, a former Labour leader of Thanet, said: “I think it was a combination of things. There has been a lot of innuendo coming his way and that can be very wearing. There have been a lot of stresses and strains.”
Cllr Bob Bayford, the Conservative opposition leader on Thanet District Council, said: "Clive Hart appears to have been under pressure for some time and has not responded particularly well.
"The council has not made a lot of headway since it became a hung council. I think it has been a build-up of pressure."
"I make no apology for anything. What motivates me is openness and transparency in local government. Under Clive Hart there has been a regime of secrecy" - Cllr Ian Driver
The council’s reputation has been in the spotlight for some time. A recent independent peer review by the LGA said the council had yet to tackle complaints about the way councilors behaved.
In a report on the authority, the LGA said: "You have not addressed some behaviours which we described as 'toxic'.
"We found examples of antagonism, hostility, homophobia and discourtesy in the way that some councillors behave.”
The council has faced a series of challenges in recent months. Among them was trying unsuccessfully to recover £3m from the ferry company Transeuropa.
It has also been involved in efforts to stave off the threat of closure of Manston Airport.
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