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Agenda item

Assessment of Complaint: COC142984

Minutes:

Preamble

A complaint was submitted by Councillor Chris Rickett, the Complainant, regarding the conduct of Councillor John Hughes, the Subject Member, both members of Clyffe Pypard Parish Council. 

 

The complaint related to allegations of bullying and harassment, over a prolonged period of time, which include actions and behaviour of the Subject Member at a Council meeting held on 27 October 2022 and other incidents where the Subject Member is said to have objected to minutes of previous meetings, challenged payments to the previous clerk, failed to countersign cheques, obstructed the recruitment of a new clerk and shared inaccurate information about the Complainant.

 

The Complainant believed that, through these actions, the Subject Member had

breached the following sections of the Code:

 

  • He/she shall behave in such a way that a reasonable person would regard as respectful.
  • He/she shall not act in a way which a reasonable person would regard as bullying or intimidatory.
  • He/she shall use the resources of the Council in accordance with its requirements;
  • The Nolan Principles of integrity and accountability.

 

Discussion

The Sub-Committee was satisfied the initial tests of the assessment criteria had been met, in that the Subject Member was and remained a member of Clyffe Pypard Parish Council and that a copy of the relevant Code of Conduct was provided for the assessment.

 

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.

 

The Sub-Committee also considered a written statement from the Complainant, who was not in attendance, and a verbal statement from the Subject Member, who was in attendance.

 

The Complainant alleged that in their actions the Subject Member had undermined the reputation of the Council and as part of a longstanding pattern of behaviour represented bullying of her as the Chairman.

 

The Complainant also raised that the Subject Member failed to share information regarding parish council matters, despite being asked to do so for a period of six months.

 

The Subject Member refuted all of the allegations and contended that there had not been a pattern of behaviour or an attempt to undermine the Council, as alleged.

 

The Subject Member alleged that it was the Complainant who had subjected other Councillors and community members to unpleasant belittling and disrespectful behaviour over the past 18 months.   

 

The Subject Member felt that he had always acted appropriately in his role as Parish Councillor and that no evidence had been provided by the Complainant to substantiate the allegations against him. Furthermore, the Subject Member stated that he had never engaged in controlling, disrespectful, misogynistic or bullying behaviour whilst serving on the Council.

 

The Subject Member also alleged that the Complainant chose to make an executive decision without an approved mandate from the Council and that requests for information from him were made at short notice, just one day prior to a council meeting. In addition, it was his duty to highlight issues such as the lateness of draft minutes and to withhold his signature on payments for reasons of accountability, in order to protect the Council.

 

Conclusion

The Sub-Committee noted that the dispute between the parties appeared to have arisen due to ongoing clashes over a period of time, which had brought about a division between the Council members.

 

In relation to the failure to sign off cheques, the Sub Committee noted that the Council had only two signatories. 

 

The Sub Committee noted that there was a high level of frustration felt by the Subject Member in the way in which the Council was functioning, with processes and deadlines not being followed or maintained, poor communication and queries to address such issues not being considered appropriately. As such, the Sub Committee did not find evidence of behaviour towards the Complainant that could be considered bullying, harassment or misogynistic.

 

The Sub Committee further noted the refusal to the offer of help from members and officers of Wiltshire Council to provide the Council with guidance and mediation to help address some of the issues which had arisen over a period of time.

 

The Sub-Committee felt that there were several opportunities which had been missed to resolve or improve the operational and communication issues at the Council, which should be investigated and acted upon, in order to facilitate a fully functioning Parish Council moving forward.

 

The Sub Committee therefore, resolved to take no further action in respect of the complaint.

 

It was;

 

Resolved:

 

In accordance with the approved arrangements for resolving standards complaints adopted by Council on 9 July 2019, which came into effect on 1 January 2020, and after hearing from the Independent Person, the Assessment Sub-Committee determined to take no further action in respect of the complaint.

 

 

Advisory

The Sub Committee suggested that additional signatories to the Parish Council bank account were appointed to enable the efficient transaction of Parish Council financial business.

 

The Sub Committee suggested that steps were taken (if they had not already been taken) to appoint a Parish Clerk to promote the proper administration of the Parish Council, having carefully reviewed the requirements of the role and the number of hours required.

 

The Sub Committee suggested that steps were taken to ensure that in the future, Minutes were published within a reasonably short time after meetings were held and that Parish Council correspondence was answered in a timely manner.

 

The Sub Committee noted that the Monitoring Officer of Wiltshire Council intended to repeat his offer to attend a meeting with members of the Council to discuss the longstanding difficulties outlined above and with a view to members agreeing a positive way forward. The Sub Committee suggested that all members of the Council take up this offer and approach the meeting with a focus on that objective, as well as a commitment in advance of any meeting to working towards all signing the Positive Conduct, Positive Democracy Charter.

 

 

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