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Agenda item

Complaint against Members of Strensall with Towthorpe Parish Council

To consider a complaint made against Members of Strensall with Towthorpe Parish Council, which has been referred to the Hearings Sub-Committee for determination following an investigation. 

 

Details of the procedure to be followed at the hearing can be found at pages 15 to 19 of the agenda papers.

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a complaint brought by Graham and Mandy Harrison against twelve current and one former member of Strensall with Towthorpe Parish Council.  The complaint related to the behaviour of the following Parish Councillors when dealing with Mr and Mrs Harrison’s application for permission to have services cross land which the Parish Council leases from City of York Council:

          Councillor Keith Marquis (Chair of the Parish Council)

          Councillor Dennis Baxter

          Councillor Duncan Hill

          Councillor Tony Fisher

          Councillor Chris Chambers

          Councillor John Chapman

          Councillor Lawrence Mattinson

          Councillor Kevin Ogilvy

          Councillor Tracey Flannery

          Councillor Geoffrey Harvey-Walker

          Councillor Judy Smith

          Councillor Ralph Plant

          Former Councillor Cath Edwards

 

The matter had been referred to the Hearings Sub-Committee for determination following an investigation.

 

Introductions were carried and the procedure for the hearing was explained. 

 

Determining factual disputes

 

The Panel confirmed that they had read the investigator’s report and the written submissions from the complainants and the Parish Councillors.

 

The Panel noted that some concerns had been raised by the subject members regarding the investigating officer’s report but that other facts were agreed by both parties. 

 

The Panel gave consideration to the following allegations of breaches of the Code of Conduct:

 

(i)           Use of the words “profit through deception” in a letter from the Chairman of the Parish Council to Hague and Dixon Solicitors

 

(ii)          Councillor Plant failing to declare an interest in Mr and Mrs Harrison’s matters at the meeting on 11 August 2015

 

(iii)        Bias and no lawful reason to refuse request, evidenced by comments made at the Parish Council meeting on 13 October 2015 in relation to a similar request for services made by Transcore in respect of land known as Sevenoaks.

 

(iv)        Bias shown in a letter of 9 September 2015 from the Parish Council to Mr and Mrs Harrison.

 

The Panel asked questions of and heard representations from the parties.

 

[The meeting was adjourned at 11.10am and reconvened at 11.40am].

 

Following the adjournment the Panel asked further questions of the parties before adjourning to consider their decision.

 

 [The Parish Councillors and Clerk to the Parish Council withdrew from the meeting at 12.25pm]

 

Panel’s Findings

 

Having considered the written documentation and the verbal representations made at the meeting, the Panel

 

Resolved:

 

(i)           That the failure of Councillor Plant to declare an interest at the meeting on 11 August 2015 was a breach of the Code of Conduct. 

 

Reason:     The decision might reasonably be regarded as affecting Councillor Plant’s well-being as it related to the granting of access for services on a development on the street where he lived. The Panel noted that Councillor Plant had accepted that he had failed to declare an interest.  The Panel did not regard the interest as “prejudicial” under the Council’s Code of Conduct.  The Panel also noted that Councillor Plant did not speak on the item.

 

(ii)          That the wording “profit through deception” in the letter of 11 August 2015 was a breach of the Code of Conduct by Councillors Marquis, Plant, Baxter, Hill, Fisher, Mattinson, Ogilvy and Smith.

 

Reason:     A reasonable person would find such a comment seriously disrespectful.  A serious allegation of this nature requires justification by clear evidence which had not been produced and the sending of this letter to a third party could and has improperly conferred a disadvantage to Mr and Mrs Harrison.

 

(iii)        That, in respect of the letter of 9 September 2015, the Committee did not consider that the letter itself merited serious criticism.  The Panel did, however, note that part of the letter had caused Mrs Harrison particular upset.  The Parish Council should therefore reflect on whether it wished to acknowledge and express some regret for the inadvertent upset that had been caused.

 

Reason:     In recognition of the upset that the letter had caused to Mr and Mrs Harrison.

 

(iv)        That, in respect of the allegation that there had been bias and no lawful reason to refuse the request, the Panel believed that the decisions at the three Parish Council meetings had been based on their animus towards Mr and Mrs Harrison and had improperly conferred a disadvantage on them which was in breach of the Code of Conduct:

 

Councillors Marquis, Plant, Chapman, Chambers, Harvey-Walker, Baxter, Smith, Flannery, and former Councillor Edwards were in breach on 9 June.

 

Councillors Marquis, Plant, Baxter, Hill, Fisher, Mattinson, Ogilvy and Smith were in breach on 11 August.

 

Councillors Marquis, Plant, Baxter, Hill, Fisher, Chambers, Chapman, Mattinson, Ogilvy and Flannery were in breach on 9 September.

 

Reasons:   The Panel were not persuaded that the request had been refused on proper grounds.

 

[The complainants, the Parish Councillors and the Clerk to the Parish Council rejoined the meeting at 12.55pm]

 

The Parish Councillors and Clerk to the Parish Council were informed of the Panel’s decisions.  They were invited to return to the meeting at 2.00pm to make representations regarding sanctions. 

 

 

[The meeting was adjourned at 1.10pm and reconvened at 2.00pm]

 

Determining Sanctions

 

The parties were informed of the sanctions that were available to the Panel and invited to make representations as to what sanctions they believed to be appropriate. It was noted that the Panel’s findings would be reported to each member of the Parish Council, the Clerk to the Parish Council and to the complainants. 

 

The parties made representations.  Councillor Chambers referred to a complaint that he had lodged about the investigation.

 

The parties left allowing the Panel to deliberate.

 

[The complainants, the Parish Councillors and the Clerk to the Parish Council withdrew from the meeting at 2.35pm]

 

The Panel recorded their view that all parties had been offered sufficient opportunity to present their case.

 

The Panel gave consideration to the sanctions to be imposed in response to the breaches of the Code of Conduct.

 

Resolved:  (i)      That, in respect of Councillor Plant’s failure to

declare an interest at the meeting on 11 August 2015, no formal sanction be applied.  The committee did not consider this to be the most serious of breaches.  The Panel did, however, recommend that Councillors be reminded to take care when dealing with issues relating to near neighbours.

 

                   (ii)      That, in respect of the Panel’s findings that

Councillors have treated Mr and Mrs Harrison with disrespect and have improperly conferred a disadvantage on them, each Councillor concerned be formally censured.

 

                   (iii)     That a copy of the Panel’s decision notice be

                             appended to the minutes of the meeting.

 

(v)         That the Panel was pleased to note some

acknowledgement from the Parish representatives that this matter had not been handled well and recorded their view that the Parish Council may wish to consider issuing an apology.

 

 

 

 

Supporting documents:

 

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