Board appoints new chief legal officer as management turnover continues

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Our council rapporteur, PEARL LEE, discovers that the new borough notary was, until last month, the director of private real estate companies

Businessman: Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense

Croydon has announced a new permanent appointment to become the council’s chief legal officer. They just don’t seem to know when he will start the expensive work. Nor have they been completely forthcoming about his private business interests.

In his new post, Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense will no doubt be expected to dig through the mud left by Newman’s discredited numpty regime.

There is a multi-million pound fraud investigation into the Fairfield Halls mess that remains to be resolved, and the Penn report into possible misconduct by officials and advisers is also expected to be finally published in the coming weeks.

A recurring theme in both reports in the public interest and other independent reports published on Croydon council over the past 18 months has been an apparent flippant disregard for the law or for legal advice in key decisions taken by the Labor-led council under Tony Newman. then Hamida Ali.

According to the council, the Croydon Supervisory Officer, “should uphold high standards of public service”, adding: “It is particularly important that the Supervisory Officer demonstrates the core public sector values ​​of objectivity, openness and honesty in this key oversight role”.

Yet in issuing its latest press release, which will have required the approval of chief executive Katherine Kerswell, the board was unclear about the recent business activities of Lawrence-Orumwense, 52.

According to Companies House records, until March 16 this year, Eloghosa Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense was a director of three private companies, all based in Dartford, Kent.

Tin House Property Ltd, which was first registered in 2011, operates in the areas of “Purchase and sale of own property”, “Other letting and operation of own or leased property” and as ” Real estate agencies”. It appears to be a one-person business, possibly run by a relative, the second named director, Dorothy Lawrence-Orumwense, who also has other property interests.

Stephen Lawrence-Orumwense resigned as director of Tin House Property on March 16. On March 20, he resigned as a director of another company, Tin House Holdings Ltd (business: “Other Lettings and Operating Owned or Leased Property”), a company he and Dorothy had registered in September 2020.

There is no indication that there was anything other than legal business activity carried out by the Lawrence-Orumwens, and the dates of his resignations may well be linked to the fact that he was offered the job of agent. monitoring in Croydon.

Official records show that Lawrence-Orumwense remains a director of a third Dartford-based company, Tin House Gallery Ltd (“Retail via mail order houses or via the internet”), which he and Dorothy set up in 2009, but which has been recorded dormant since 2014.

It’s entirely possible that in making its announcement on Friday, council did not view the new borough attorney’s business interests as relevant to his work. Even in the spirit of “openness and transparency” to which Fisher’s Folly under Kerswell refers.

But if we haven’t learned anything else in the last seven days, it’s that the business interests of, say, the spouse of a person in public service can often be very relevant indeed…

Among Lawrence-Orumwense’s previous jobs as a barrister was that of Assistant Supervisory Officer for Sutton Council. That was about 10 years ago, but those involved in neighboring authority will recall that the council’s second-most senior legal official helped rewrite the Sutton standards regime, which the majority of Liberal Democrats used. so “to go after the conservatives”. when they questioned… a dodgy council ownership agreement.

In 2009 Lawrence-Orumwense was part of the joint Sutton/NHS team which negotiated the purchase of land to provide access to the new £50million Stanley Park Secondary School. This team ended up wasting £600,000 on a pointless legal battle which led to a compulsory purchase order against a religious group, the trustees of the Benhill Gospel Trust, and delayed the opening of the school. So he’ll probably fit in very well here in Croydon.

Lawrence-Orumwense will come at a time of considerable turnover among senior executives on the board.

One of Lawrence-Orumwense’s predecessors as borough attorney, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, was among council executives who were effectively suspended from duty in February 2021 (Harris-Baker went on sick leave prolonged; she never returned) as their roles in the omnisambles of a council were unraveled.

Harris-Baker was known to be very close to controversial chief executive Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, and she ran a legal department that was found to have flouted the law itself.

Faded away: Jacqueline Harris-Baker has resigned as the council’s chief legal officer after three months on sick leave

In February, John Jones, the council’s newest short-term watchdog, opened a fraud investigation into how £67million may have been spent on the unfinished and incomplete refurbishment of Fairfield Halls. Jones also ruled against Paul Scott and Alison Butler, two members of Newman’s clique who brought the council to its knees, for a serious violation of the council’s code of conduct.

But Jones left Croydon at the end of March (after giving Butler and Scott the slightest pat on the wrist), and it will be Lawrence-Orumwense’s job to keep the new mayor and council on track, and to oversee further somehow a changing culture at Fisher’s Folly, where obeying the law has too long been seen by some as an optional extra.

The council’s propaganda department was up to its old tricks with its Friday press release on the appointment, making exaggerated claims riddled with inaccuracies.

The council, they said, “has successfully appointed a permanent director of legal services and watchdog as it prepares for local elections and a new mayoral system.”

They then contradicted themselves in their very next sentence, as Lawrence-Orumwense will not join the council until “later this year”, well after the polls have been filled and the votes have been counted.

The board says Lawrence-Orumwense has “extensive experience in local government legal and oversight roles.”

“Openness and responsibility”: CEO Katherine Kerswell

Until recently, he was the No. 2 legal eagle at Haringey (which was presumably entirely relaxed about his deputy supervisory officer holding private company directorships).

No start date has been given for Lawrence-Orumwense, so in the meantime the board is bringing in another temporary legal official (at least the third since Harris-Baker left the sinking ship), someone from name of Andrew Hunkin. All of this does not bode well for the continuity of judgment or management within the department that should ensure the conscience of the board.

It will be Hunkin’s job to ensure that the mayoral and council election campaigns remain legal. Tip for Hunkin: You might want to check campaign accounts and expenses.

The council says: “This important position is responsible for ensuring that all council work complies with the law and best practice.” Which would make a nice change.

“This includes ensuring financial probity, internal management and control, and oversight of democratic services. The Monitoring Officer provides advice to the Board, Cabinet, and Oversight and Oversight Committee on governance matters, as well as managing investigations into potential violations by Advisors of the Member Code of Conduct.

The official announcement was dripping with insincerity. The council’s spin-docs would have us believe that Lawrence-Orumwense really said Croydon is ‘a dynamic council’.

For his part, Kerswell approved the distribution of these quotes on his behalf: “I am delighted to welcome Stephen to Croydon, as well as Andrew who has joined us on an interim basis. These are two strong appointments for the borough as we move towards financial stability and prepare for our first directly elected mayor.

“I look forward to working together as we continue to strive for openness and accountability to all of our residents.

Perhaps, in the interest of transparency and accountability to all residents, the Managing Director would like the Companies House url…?

Read more: CEO Negrini’s long campaign to shut down Inside Croydon
Read more: Council paid £25,000 for legal threats against Inside Croydon
Read more: The council are forced to pay the blogger’s £50,000 legal costs (Sandwell)
Read more: Commissioner orders council to respond to FoI over defamation threats

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