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Life of ex-York council leader Rod Hills examined in research project
HE was an intelligent, well-educated and hard-working man who transformed a backward council - but he was also a loner, shy, ill-tempered, impatient, vindictive and, at times, a bully to colleagues and staff.
That is the paradoxical verdict on the late Rod Hills, who led York's council for 18 years before a dramatic fall from grace in 2002, in a dissertation by academic and former Labour councillor Dr Roger Pierce.
Dr Pierce's four-year, post-doctoral research project into the "curious case of Cllr Rod Hills CBE" examined how some northern Labour council leaders appeared able to transform their authorities to provide better, more efficient services during an "undeclared war" with the Thatcher Government.
His case study was Mr Hills, a University of York academic who died in 2003, aged only 57, a year after being charged with a string of criminal offences, including blackmail, soliciting women and perverting the course of justice, which were later dropped amid claims by Mr Hills that he was the victim of a police witch-hunt. He died from natural causes in a flat in Chapeltown, Leeds.
Di Pierce concluded that Mr Hills transformed the city council over 13 years, introducing a "Tenants Charter" and prototype "Citizen's Charter", establishing cabinet government, setting up the first marketing unit in an English council, establishing an inward investment board, introducing ward committees and budgets, and achieving unitary council status for York.
"He was able to master detail and was an outstanding debater," he said.
"He was regarded as 'head and shoulders' above other Labour councillors or other leaders. He was motivated strongly by what he saw was wrong. He was angered by injustice, inequality, poor public services and poor management of public finances."
But he said Mr Hills' attributes and achievements were offset to some extent by his "baggage", saying: "His high political intelligence contrasted with low emotional intelligence.
"He pursued inappropriate relationships. He would not share power with other agencies or the voluntary sector. He also practised 'continuous revolution', which left his nearest advisors competing endlessly with one another for his patronage.
"This created an atmosphere of intrigue, back-biting and distrust, like the court of a medieval monarch. He had very few friends or interests outside work or the council. He also had a 'dark side' and his own demons."