AN online petition calling for the suspension of the chief executives of Cosla and Argyll and Bute Council is set to reach its target of 800 signatures and has attracted the support of Scottish Government minister Mike Russell MSP.

More than 720 people have already signed the petition, which calls on Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart to “open an investigation” into the conduct of Cosla chief executive Sally Loudon, Argyll and Bute chief executive Cleland Sneddon, and two executive directors of the council, Pippa Nimmo and Doug Hendry.

Loudon, the former chief executive of Argyll and Bute Council, and the other three officers levelled a series of complaints about alleged breaches of the local government code of conduct against independent councillor for Dunoon Mike Breslin. He had asked numerous questions about controversies in his area, such as the sale of Castle Toward school to private developers rather than a community company.

Some 15 complaints in all were made against Breslin by the four officers. Only one, that he showed a lack of courtesy towards the council’s head of governance Charles Reppke, was upheld by the independent Standards Commission panel. As The National has revealed, Reppke himself did not take part in making any of the original complaints to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life.

By making the complaints, the officials effectively silenced Cllr Breslin as the rules prohibit any councillor who is the subject of a complaint having any contact with the complainers.

The petition states: “We call on Argyll & Bute Council to immediately suspend officers Sneddon, Hendry and Milne until their actions over the complaints about Councillor Breslin are independently investigated.

“We call on Cosla to suspend Mrs Loudon until her actions over the complaints against Cllr Breslin are independently investigated.

“The evidence presented to the Standards Commissioner suggests potentially an unacceptable political motivation in the actions of these four officers (and others) and a desire to subvert the democratic will of the electorate.

“We call for the Scottish Government to instigate a fully independent enquiry charged with looking into the behaviour of these four officers and Argyll & Bute Council over the items that were covered by the complaints, and to attempt to find the motivation behind their actions.”

Cllr Breslin said: “The only way forward is for there to be an independent inquiry. I have spent a five-figure sum clearing my name and the Standards Commission found heavily in my favour.

“Yet for a long time I was effectively silenced and prevented from doing my job as a councillor.”

Supporters of Cllr Breslin are focusing on the council’s own code of conduct for all employees.

Article 18 of the code covers treatment at work, and states: “You are entitled to expect fair and reasonable treatment from your colleagues, managers and from councillors. If you feel that you have been unfairly treated or have been discriminated against, you are entitled to make use of the appropriate council procedures.”

These procedures can include other managers investigating the matter and perhaps negotiating a resolution of complaints – that did not happen at Argyll and Bute.

Despite persistent questions by The National, the four officers have refused to confirm that they exhausted council procedures before contacting the Commissioner.

Local MP Mike Russell told The National: “It is now clear that the officials appear to have broken – indeed to have completely ignored – their own code of conduct in making the complaint to the Standards Commission without any attempt to resolve the matters with Cllr Breslin first.

“That is a serious breach of their terms of employment, and to compound that, the financial and reputational cost of so doing to the council and local council tax payers has been enormous. I don’t think there can be any other action taken by the council as an employer but immediate suspension of the officials pending a full, independent enquiry. It should happen today.”

The National asked all four officials these questions: “Can you say exactly what steps you took once it had been decided that the four of you were the subject of unacceptable treatment by Councillor Breslin?

“Can you say who exactly decided on a complaint to the commissioner? Who decided that the council’s own procedures were exhausted? Was it former chief executive Loudon? When was that decision taken? It was presumably all agreed between the four complainants that the complaints should go forward. What meetings were held to decide this and were they minuted?”

An Argyll and Bute spokesperson replied: “The council will consider the Standard Commission’s written findings in due course.”

A spokesman for Cosla said they had nothing further to add to their previous comment. That was: “We understand that at a hearing of the Standards Commission yesterday, Cllr Breslin was found in breach of the national code of local government conduct and that the hearing panel imposed a sanction of censure.”