A vote by Thanet councillors to reprimand a former Cabinet member was passed at a meeting last night – but was not unanimous.
The fall-out of the vote has now resulted in conduct accusations and yet another scathing facebook post against a council officer.
Cllr Suzanne Brimm, who held a Cabinet post as a UKIP member before quitting the group to become Independent last August, was subject to an investigation after posting comments that a senior Thanet council officer “…needs to go!! Not fit for purpose!”
Cllr Brimm was asked to remove the comments but refused.
Following the complaint an investigation, costing £3245, was carried out.
The independent investigator found that Councillor Brimm’s facebook post compromised the integrity of an officer and she had brought her office and the council into disrepute.
TDC Monitoring Officer Tim Howes told the meeting: “Cllr Brimm has been ‘convicted and sentenced’ and the council is asked to carry out part of that sentence by voting for the censure.”
Thanet Independent UKIP Group leader Cllr Stuart Piper asked what the formal censure entailed and said the lack of an informative answer was the reason he was one of around a dozen who voted to reject the formal reprimand.
Thanet Independent UKIP Group members, bar one who abstained, voted against the motion as did Independent Alan Howes.
A report to councillors from officer Tim Howes said: “Members should be aware that officers are constrained in the response they may make to public comments from members.
“Members should not criticise officers personally in public or through the press nor seek to undermine their position by abuse, rudeness or ridicule. This in no way reduces the right of members to criticise, in a constructive manner, the report or actions of a department or section of the Council where they believe such criticism is well-founded.”
Following the end of last night’s meeting Cllr Piper claims he and Cllr Edward Jaye-Jones were ‘admonished’ by TDC’s chief executive Madeline Homer and Tim Howes within sight of members of the public,
Cllr Piper said: “I am consulting the constitution to find out the correct procedure if any complaint involves both the CEO and the Monitoring Officer.
“Cllr Jaye – Jones came over to intervene. Members of the public saw them (Monitoring Officer and Chief Executive) approach and move me to one side but observed the discussion.”
Cllr Piper says he is yet to make a decision about what, if any, action he will take but added that he has told the CEO and Monitoring Officer that they misunderstood the group’s actions.
He added: “A film of the meeting clearly shows from 33 to 37 minutes that the whole council was unsure. They were clearly angry and perhaps a little too hasty to condemn.”
Cllr Piper said he is awaiting advice from the Local Government Association before deciding on a course of action.
Cllr Brimm, who remains defiant, saying she stands by her comments, said she plans to make a complaint about the incident.
The Birchington councillor, who has enlisted the help of Whistleblowers UK in regards to the censure and other issues including the shutting down of her authority email account, said it was “hypocritical” to admonish the pair in front of members of the public after the action taken against her.
The incident is also raised in a facebook post from the account of Cllr Alan Howes asking the chief executive: “How dare you castigate members for voting how they did.”
In an angry tirade the chief executive is branded “not fit for purpose.” In comments below the post it says ‘facts’ will be used, adding: “If I get the ammo, I’ll ‘iron her out.’”
Cllr Piper appealed for an end to social media posts about officers. He said: “I advise all councillors not to attack officers on social media unless they have read and understood the constitution guidance on page 224 and understand the possible consequences of potential breaches of the code of conduct.
“Remember the vote last night was not about her guilt or innocence, it was about the punishment. The no votes were honest expressions of concern that the censure had not been properly explained despite the question. Is the censure finished now that the vote has been taken? Is there to be a letter of censure? If so what will it say? What kind of press release will be used to ‘publicise’ the decision. There was in the view of many, real uncertainty about these issues hence the silence when the Chairman asked…’Do members agree?’”
A Thanet council spokesman said the authority would not be commenting on Standards issues. They added that the case against Cllr Brimm had been about conduct and not whistleblowing.