STANDARDS HEARING - 12 Oct 2015
In June 2014 I was summoned to a meeting with Julie Beilby, TMBC Chief Executive, and Adrian Stanfield, Monitoring Officer and Borough Solicitor. They intended to haul me over the coals for "disrespect towards Officers" and "bringing the Council into disrepute". They also alleged that some of my comments amounted to "Defamation of Character". I challenged their conclusion, that they were attempting to browbeat me into silence, and that if what they said was true, they should put me in front of a Standards Committee, or take me to Court. They did neither, so after a few weeks I reported myself, on the grounds that if an allegation has been made, it should be properly tested and not swept under the carpet.
The problem with dealing with these sort of people is that they will say things at a private meeting, and if you cannot remember verbatim, they then publicly deny they ever said it, so now I always carry and audio recorder when meeting these people - they won't catch me again.
At the hearing, the "lack of respect" allegation was quickly dropped, because that is not actually in the Standards Code, it is just part of the Seven Principles of Public Life , and although those seven principles underpin all the codes, they are not mandatory in themselves. And I say respect is earned, not a right.
David Ashton, TMBC's own Independent Person, very swiftly discounted the "bullying" accusation, because as he pointed out, none of the officers had made any reference to it in their statements, they had not been intimidated by what I had said, merely saddened that they were not able to impress their case on me.
The Panel retired for lunch and deliberation at 2pm, and returned about 5, so I am happy they conscientiously examined all the evidence in a fair manner - they gave me a "fair crack". They found the allegation of "disrepute" proven, then retired again to deliberate on an appropriate sanction. They decided there would be a Letter of Sanction, that would be published on the TM website, and in the Press, and that I would lose my appointment to the Area 2 Planning Committee.
The letter of sanction I see as a badge of honour, and whilst I cannot vote at a Planning Committee, I can still attend and speak. In truth it is a rare occasion when my vote at planning means anything - I am invariably out-voted by the party machine anyway.
What was interesting is the whole disrepute argument presented by TM Solicitor and Deputy Monitoring Officer Kevin Toogood. I have asked for a copy of his delivered opinion, but as I understand what he said, by making an allegation against an officer, I am automatically harming his reputation, and have therefore broken the Standards Code. Now whilst our Council Officers are held to the highest standards, there must be occasions when they do wrong. Councillors are elected in part to hold Officers to account on behalf of the public : how can we do that if the moment we open our mouths we are in breach of the standards code?
I accept that many of my recent emails and web comments are extremely robust, but they have been ignoring us for 8 years, the longer they act deaf, the louder we have to shout, and try to provoke a reaction.
This is a direct extract from the code:"(f) (you must not) conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or the Authority into disrepute;". Now I contend that TMBC and its Officers have bought TMBC into disrepute by:
1. using falsified evidence to ensure Isles Quarry was approved by the LDF inspector
2. Failing to act against a Borough Councillor guilty of malfeasance
3. Failing to monitor contamination remediation at Isles Quarry
4. Failing to provide information in a timely fashion, even under FOI rules
5. Deliberately with-holding important information from elected members
6. Deliberately misleading local people and Council members, what you or I would call "lying"
7. Failing in their statutory duty to ensure Isles Quarry housing was delivered in a manner that was safe for Borough Green and the new residents.
8. Failing to act against individual officers who fell short of their much vaunted "high standards"
9. wasting tens of thousands of pounds of public money pursuing a vendetta against me, in an attempt to shut me up and stop my efforts on behalf of the people who elected me.
If standing up for the people of Borough Green & Longmill is bringing TM into disrepute, good.
And finally - they have rather shot themselves in the foot - they have now exhausted the sanctions they could have employed against me in the event of future "breaches of the Standards Code", so provided I steer clear of defaming any individual, I'm bombproof !!