Disruption caused a Thanet council meeting to grind to a halt last night (April 12) when members of the Thanet Independent Councillors (TIC) group disputed parts of an annual Standards report.
Council chairman Janet Falcon ordered an adjournment after Cllr Alan Howes refused to sit back down following a protest about what he said was a “disgusting” report.
The report, authored by Dr Jonathan Sexton, Independent Chairman of Standards Committee, highlighted a vote in February to reprimand former UKIP Cabinet member Suzanne Brimm.
Cllr Brimm 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 Cllr Brimm’s facebook post compromised the integrity of an officer and she had brought her office and the council into disrepute.
A vote to formally censure Cllr Brimm was passed but it was not unanimous. 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 (now TIC), bar one who abstained, voted against the motion as did then- Independent Alan Howes (now TIC).
‘Endorsing errant behaviour’
In Dr Sexton’s report it stated the group voted en-bloc. He went on to say: This stance, seemingly endorsing the errant behaviour, was noted by many present in the public gallery and drew some unfavourable comment.
“A bizarre feature of this episode was that the lead member of the group, had sat in person on the Sub Committee, heard all the evidence, and at the time, concurred both with the findings of fact and with the recommended sanctions.
“With publication of the sub committee’s findings he then sought to distance himself from the conclusions reached. This culminated in posing at Full Council, an obtuse question as to the nature of censure, before declining to support this recommendation (the group colleagues following his lead). Members might wish to speculate amongst themselves as to the reasons for this change of stance.”
Another instance highlighted in the report was the early exit of Cllr Brimm and Cllr Alan Howes from February’s budget meeting.
Cllr Howes branded the report as “disgusting and not factual.”
He was admonished for “inappropriate language” by council chairman Janet Falcon who then temporarily shut the meeting after Cllr Howes refused to sit down.
Once the meeting restarted Cllr Lynda Piper said she disapproved of the report section, adding: “In my view the report should not comment on the way elected members exercised their vote in this chamber. (He) does not have the right to malign my integrity when I do not have the right of reply.”
She added: “We have a democratic right to vote as we wish without incurring such scathing, and incorrect, criticism in a public document.”
The report was also disputed by Cllr Gary Taylor, who said he had abstained, so the vote was not en-bloc, Cllr Brimm, who said she had made a ‘public disclosure’ regarding the report to the council chief executive and monitoring officer but received no reply and Cllr Stuart Piper who branded the section “inaccurate and misleading.”
He said making “allegations against elected members” would “set a dangerous precedent,” adding that he had lodged a formal complaint about the report.
In response Dr Sexton said it was an independent report on conduct inside, and outside, the chamber, adding: “The observations made in the report are accurate and I will not change it.”
The report also highlighted a rise in Standards complaints against councillors in the 2017/18 year. Some 31 complaints were made and 12 passed the initial jurisdiction test and progressed for further scrutiny.
Of these 12 cases, 4 progressed to formal investigation. 1 case so investigated, was judged not to be a breach of the Code of Conduct. In one case a member’s conduct was found to have breached the Code of Conduct. The remaining two formal investigations are currently still open. Twelve separate complaints concerned one councillor.
One complaint involved the meeting of former leader Chris Wells with Stone Hill Park development representative Ray Mallon.
Some 40 complaints were received about the meeting. The report states: “After due consideration, the appointed Standards Sub Committee determined that whilst such a meeting was ill advised, there was nothing in such behaviour which breached the Code of Conduct.
“I am advised that following this determination, a number of the complainants referred the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s speedy response stated that the Council had conducted its Standards enquiries entirely properly and there were no grounds for intervention by the Commission for Local Government in England (the Ombudsman).”
Dr Sexton also highlighted the rising number of complaints involving social media and a number of complaints made by members against other councillors.
A request for the ‘offending’ paragraph to be removed from the report was rejected with monitoring officer Tim Howes saying TDC was not “in a position to correct the report.”