DENBIGHSHIRE council bosses have paid out more than £400,000 in 17 gagging orders to stop staff revealing information about the authority.
The so-called ‘compromise agreements’ were paid to 17 Denbighshire County Council employees when they left the organisation between 2009 and 2013.
Payouts during 2012/13 cost the council £182,032 with eight different members of staff signing an agreement, which stops them from pursuing a claim against the council.
In 2011/12 four agreements cost £91,693 and in 2010/11 two agreements cost the council £37,500.
The second highest was in 2009/10 with three employees agreeing to a gagging order costing the tax payer £131,962.
These figures were revealed through a Freedom Of Information request to Denbighshire County Council.
A council spokesman said: “Like many employers, including councils across the UK, Denbighshire County Council will on occasion use compromise agreements to settle employment disputes between it and an individual employee.
“A compromise agreement is not the same as a gagging order.
“A compromise agreement is, as it says, an agreement reached between employer and employee to reach a negotiated settlement where a dispute cannot practically be resolved by any other means.”
The spokesman also said that the council believes issues should be resolved openly but there are a small handful of situations where this is inappropriate.
He added: “In these circumstances, a compromise agreement will cover the terms on which an employee will leave the council, any payments they may be entitled to, an agreement that any outstanding dispute has been settled and will not be pursued further, and often an agreed reference.
“Whilst a confidentiality clause is often included within those discussions, it is unfair and inaccurate to describe them as 'gagging orders'.”
The authority was asked to reveal information on gagging orders for the past 10 years but the council said information prior to 2009 would exceed the appropriate time and cost limit.
A compromise agreement is a legal contract for an employee to agree not to pursue any claim against them in return for payment, or the termination of employment in return for money.
Compromise agreements can be used in redundancy situations, to keep trade secrets or prevent a person speaking about something.
Robert Oxley, campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance said: "It’s deeply worrying that council taxpayers have paid so much to hush staff up with compromise agreements.
“These arrangements are not only an extra burden on Council Tax bills, but there is also a danger that they can be used to cover up incompetence and wrong doing.
“Denbighshire County Council must come clean about the reasons for these payments and end the culture of secret golden goodbyes at taxpayers’ expense.”
In 2010 the Free Press revealed top officials at Denbighshire County Council who were legally gagged when they left the authority.
The departures started October 2004 when former director of lifelong learning, Sioned Bowen took early retirement and signed a confidentiality agreement.
Her successor Huw Griffiths went on indefinite and unspecified sick leave in October 2007, following two damning reports into the council’s failings in education provision.
Mr Griffiths resigned in September 2008 and was not able to speak about why he left.
In November 2008, the council’s chief executive Ian Miller stepped down with less than one week’s notice, ahead of the release of a damning report by the Wales Audit Office.
Four North Wales councils revealed their figures on compromise agreements:
Denbighsire County Council - Three agreements 2009/10 costing £131,962; two in 2010/11 costing £37,500; four in 2011/12 costing £91,693 and eight in 2012/13 costing £182,032 - totalling £443,187
Wrexham Council - three agreements between 2007 and 2013 totalling £41,660
Gwynedd Council - two agreements signed between 2007 and 2012, costing £15,452 and one in 2012/13 costing £5,258 - totalling £20,710
Angelsey Council - Zero between 2003 and 2009; one in 2010/11 costing £341; five in 2011/12 costing £35,746; eight in 2012/13 costing £47,350 - totalling £84,062
Conwy and Flintshire: response delayed