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To receive any apologies or substitutions for the meeting.
An apology for absence was received from Councillor Gordon King.
Minutes of the Previous Meeting
To approve the minutes of the meeting held on 20 June 2023.
The minutes of the meeting held on 20 June 2023 were presented for consideration, and it was,
To approve and sign the minutes as a true and correct record.
Declarations of Interest
To receive any declarations of disclosable interests, or dispensations granted by the Standards Committee.
There were no declarations.
Meeting Procedure and Assessment Criteria
To note the procedure and assessment criteria for the meeting.
The procedure and criteria were noted.
Exclusion of the Public
To consider passing the following resolution:
To agree that in accordance with Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 to exclude the public from the meeting for the business specified in Agenda Item Numbers 6 onwards, because it is likely that if members of the public were present there would be disclosure to them of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 1 of Part I of Schedule 12A to the Act and the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information to the public.
Paragraph 1 - information relating to an individual
To agree that in accordance with Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 to exclude the public from the meeting for the business specified in Minute Numbers 126 onwards, because it is likely that if members of the public were present there would be disclosure to them of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 1 of Part I of Schedule 12A to the Act and the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information to the public.
Paragraph 1 -information relating to an individual
Assessment of Complaint: COC144524
A complaint was submitted by Joanna Horbury, the Complainant, on behalf of the Downton Cuckoo Fair, regarding the conduct of Councillor Gareth Watts, the Subject Member, of Downton Parish Council.
The complaint related to an email sent by the Subject Member to the trustees of the Stockman and Woodlands Trust Charity, disparaging the Cuckoo Fair, including referencing to ‘robbing’ Downton and the surrounding villages.
On 16 March 2023 the Sub-Committee determined that, if proven, the allegations could amount to a breach of the Code of Conduct, and referred the matter for investigation.
That investigation report had concluded that the Subject Member had been or would reasonably have been regarded as acting in an official capacity by the recipients of the email. It also concluded that the Subject Member’s actions did reach the threshold of representing a breach of paragraph 1.1 of the Code of Conduct: I treat other councillors and members of the public with respect. It found that the actions did not reach the threshold of representing a breach of the provisions of the Code in respect of honesty.
In accordance with Protocol 11 of the Constitution, arrangements for dealing with Code of Conduct complaints:
7.1Following receipt of an investigation report, where the Monitoring Officer in consultation with the Independent person considers that the matter can reasonably be resolved without the need for a hearing, they will consult with the Parties to seek to agree a fair resolution which also helps to ensure higher standards of conduct for the future.
7.2Alternative resolution may involve mediation and may include the Member accepting that their conduct was unacceptable and offering an apology, and/or remedial action by the Council or the Parish Council as the case may be. If the Member complies with the suggested resolution the Monitoring Officer will report the matter to the Assessment Sub-Committee and the relevant Parish Council where appropriate, for information, but will take no further action.
7.3The Member may elect to proceed to a hearing rather than accept alternative resolution.
The Monitoring Officer had therefore accordingly engaged with the Subject Member, and proposed alternative resolution. This had resulted in the Subject Member sending an email to the recipients of their original email retracting their comments.
The Sub-Committee considered the report and responses of the parties in advance of their meeting. They considered whether the matter could be deferred pending further information or referred to Hearing. They were subsequently advised of the provisions of Protocol 11 and procedures in relation to alternative resolution post an investigation report.
The Sub-Committee therefore reviewed the reports regarding the complaint as well as representations received in advance of their meeting. They did consider the nature and scope of the retraction which had been provided and the form in which it had been made, which was in a similar fashion as the original incident. However, they noted the arrangements for dealing with Code of Conduct complaints, and the Monitoring Officer’s conclusion that alternative resolution could reasonably obviate the ... view the full minutes text for item 126.
Assessment of Complaint: COC145994
A complaint was received from Councillor John Eaton, Southwick Parish Council, the Complainant, regarding the alleged conduct of Councillor Kath Noble, also of Southwick Parish Council, the Subject Member. The complaint related to alleged comments from the Subject Member referring at or preceding a public meeting of the council to the Complainant as a liar.
It was reported to the Sub-Committee that following discussions with the Monitoring Officer and an Independent Person, the Subject Member had agreed to read out an apology publicly for her language at a meeting of the parish council. This has been completed in advance of the Sub-Committee meeting.
At the meeting the Sub-Committee took into account the original complaint and supporting information, response of the Subject Member, the original report of the Monitoring Officer, previous verbal statements which had been made by the parties, and a revised report from the Monitoring Officer on the alternative resolution including comments from the parties.
The Sub-Committee was satisfied that the Monitoring Officer had engaged with the Subject Member and agreed a proportionate resolution, with a statement made at a Parish Council meeting apologising for making inappropriate remarks. It was therefore content to note the decision to resolve the matter through that alternative resolution in accordance with appropriate procedure and assessment criteria.
To note that the complaint had been resolved through alternative resolution.
Assessment of Complaint: COC146700-88
This item was deferred until the next meeting.
Assessment of Complaint: COC146864 and COC147026
Two separate complaints had been submitted regarding the same incident by Sgt Gemma Rutter, Wiltshire Police, and Mel Rolph respectively, the Complainants. The complaints were regarding the alleged conduct of Councillor Mark Harris, Melksham Without Parish Council, the Subject Member, in respect of behaviour at a meeting with several PCSOs, and others, which was stated to have been unprofessional and disrespectful.
The Sub-Committee was satisfied the initial tests of the assessment criteria had been met, in that the Subject Member was and remains a member of Melksham Without Parish Council and that a copy of the relevant Code of Conduct was provided for the assessment.
There was a dispute between the parties over whether the Subject Member had been acting in their capacity as a Parish Councillor at the time of the meeting during which the alleged conduct occurred. If it was determined that they were not acting or reasonably perceived to be acting in their official capacity, then the alleged conduct would not be capable of being in breach of the Code.
If the Subject Member was acting in their official capacity, the Sub-Committee therefore had to decide whether the alleged behaviour would, if proven, amount to a breach of the Code of Conduct. If the Sub-Committee concluded that the alleged behaviour would amount to a breach, then it would have to go on to decide whether it was appropriate under the assessment criteria to refer the matter for investigation.
In reaching its decision, the Sub-Committee took into account the original complaint and supporting information, the response of the Subject Member, and the report of the Monitoring Officer. Written statements from the Subject Member and one Complainant were also received. No parties were in attendance.
Neither Complainant had been present at the meeting at which the alleged behaviour occurred. One was the responsible Sergeant for the PCSOs, the other was the mother of one of the PCSOs. The meeting was in respect of issues about trailers being parked in contravention of traffic orders in the Bowerhill Industrial Park, which had been a longstanding issue for the community.
The complaint alleges the Subject Member caused shock and insult due to very personal comments, including regarding the mother of one PCSO, pulled faces and made exaggerated tantrum noises, mocked the responses of the officers, and generally behaved in a manner inappropriate for an elected Member.
The Subject Member stated in response to one complaint that his comments had been misreported and misinterpreted, but that he accepted they were ill advised and had made an apology through the Sergeant to those offended, noting he had done so prior to being made aware of a formal complaint being submitted. In response to the other complaint he stated that his comments as alleged had been ‘as a way of breaking the ice’, and when it did not go down well he accepted it was a ‘crass and stupid thing to say’. He stated he had since apologised.
The first question for the ... view the full minutes text for item 129.