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Election of Chairman
To elect a Chairman for the meeting.
It was proposed by Cllr R Biggs seconded by Cllr B Trite
That Cllr M Hall be elected Chaiman.
To receive any apologies for absence.
There were no apologies for absence.
Declarations of Interest
To disclose any pecuniary, other registrable or personal interest as set out in the adopted Code of Conduct. In making their decision councillors are asked to state the agenda item, the nature of the interest and any action they propose to take as part of their declaration.
If required, further advice should be sought from the Monitoring Officer in advance of the meeting.
Cllr R Biggs stated that he was a member of the Liberal Democrat Group and that Cllr N Ireland was Leader of that group, however this would have no bearing on his decision making.
Cllr B Trite declared his relationship with Cllr C Lugg as they were both members of the same political group.
Cllr M Hall stated that he was also a member of the Liberal Democrat Group. As Chairman Cllr Hall explained to those present that the Sub-committee meetings were arranged by Democratic Services and members were not aware of the details of the complainant, however the Sub-committee had a set remit and that the members of the Sub-committee would take every piece of information into account including the views of the Independent Person.
To note the Sub-Committee’s terms of reference:-
Audit and Governance (Hearing) Sub-Committees for the consideration of Code of Conduct Issues
(a) The Audit and Governance Committee shall arrange that, to the extent it is called upon to determine any allegation relating to a Member Code of Code (including that of a Town Council or a Parish Council), the determination shall be made by a Sub-Committee of the Audit and Governance Committee. An Audit and Governance Sub-Committee with such responsibility may include non-Members. An Audit and Governance Sub-Committee that has non-Members forming part of it shall not have any power relating to the regulation and/or control of the finances of the Council.
(b) Substitutes may only be appointed to an Audit and Governance Sub-Committee from the membership of the Audit and Governance Committee. There shall be no power to appoint non Member substitutes.
To note the Dorset Council Member Complaint Process (attached).
The Sub-committee noted the Terms of Reference and the process for complaints.
To consider any items of business which the Chairman has had prior notification and considers to be urgent pursuant to section 100B (4) b) of the Local Government Act 1972. The reason for urgency shall be recorded in the minutes.
There were no urgent items of business.
To move the exclusion of press and the public for the following items in view of the likely disclosure of exempt information within the meaning of paragraph 1 of schedule 12A to the Local government act 1972 (as amended).
The Chairman proposed that the meeting be held in open business, there were no objections from the attendees present.
Code of Conduct Complaint 1
The Investigating Officer, Roger Greene, introduced his report by highlighting the key points within the report.
A Code of Conduct complaint against Cllr N Ireland had been submitted to Dorset Council by Mrs Bray in respect of a Western and Southern Planning Committee meeting held in October 2019.
The facts of the complaint were not disputed by Cllr N Ireland, who accepted that he sent an email to all members of the committee supporting the position of an objector who wanted the Western & Southern Planning Committee to refuse a planning application.
Cllr N Ireland had confirmed to the Investigating Officer that he considered that he could send the email to all members of the committee as he knew that he would not be attending the committee on the day that the planning application was under consideration. However the Investigating Officer, advised the sub-committee that he considered that this course of action was not correct under the Members’ Code of Conduct based on the general principles of the Code, including openness, honesty and integrity which apply to all conduct cases. The Investigating Officer had written to Cllr N Ireland during the investigation to clarify this point.
In this case the planning application in question had been approved by the planning committee. Therefore, if the sub-committee found Cllr N Ireland to be in breach of the Code of Conduct the breach was mitigated as it did not make any difference to the application decision.
Mrs Bray, the complainant, considered that it was inappropriate to use social media to try to influence the decision of a planning committee.
The Investigating Officer explained that a member of a planning committee must always be careful not to predetermine or lobby other members of the committee. Dorset councillors were required to comply with the Code of Conduct which included other protocols relating to member conduct. The Investigating Officer read the relevant section of the Protocol for Members and Officers on Planning Procedures highlighting that:
Members must not make up their minds in advance of meetings;
They can hold a strong view but if their mind is not open they must not debate or vote;
Lobbying is part of the process but members must take care to ensure lobbying does not call into question the integrity and fairness of the planning process or an individual councillor;
Members of the planning committee should take care about expressing an opinion which could indicate they had made up their mind. They should instead give procedural advice including contacting the case officer.
In response to the Chairman, Mrs Bray, the complainant, confirmed that she had nothing to add.
Cllr B Trite asked the Investigating Officer if his view that a breach of the code had taken place would be different if Cllr N Ireland had said from the outset that he was predetermined on the application and would not be taking part in the meeting, e.g. if he had clearly divorced himself from the committee from the outset.
In response the ... view the full minutes text for item 43.
Code of Conduct Complaint 2
The Chairman introduced members of the sub-committee to those were who present at the meeting to hear the second Code of Conduct hearing on the agenda.
Cllr Bill Trite had made a declaration of interest at the start of the meeting as he was a member of the Conservative Group as was Cllr C Lugg.
With the agreement of those present the Chairman, Cllr Matt Hall, advised that the meeting would be held in open business.
The Investigating Officer, Mr R Greene, presented his report. A Code of Conduct complaint had been received from Cllr Cathy Lugg, Ferndown Town Councillor against Cllr Paul Hanson Graham, Ferndown Town Councillor in respect of bullying, offensive behaviour and failure to show respect.
The Investigating Officer advised the sub-committee that the agenda pack contained a second statement by Cllr C Lugg that had been redacted. The statement was in response to the draft report and referred to matters that had not be raised before. The Investigating Officer did not consider it reasonable to include this information and took the decision to redact the statement. It was for members of the sub-committee to decide how they wished to deal with this statement.
The Deputy Monitoring Officer had seen the unredacted version and advised the sub-committee that it made reference to the number of complaints, hearsay evidence and further witnesses. She agreed with the Investigating Officer that the redacted statement was sufficient for the hearing to proceed, however copies of the unredacted statement were available for the sub-committee if they wished to see it. The members of the sub-committee all agreed that they were content to continue with the redacted statement.
The Investigating Officer continued his presentation and reported that his finding had been a non-breach of the Code of Conduct. He had received a large amount of documentation from Cllr C Lugg and a copy of the Ferndown Town Council Code of Conduct was included in the agenda bundle. He further advised that this was a long-standing complaint about the same issues which was seeking a remedy that this sub-committee could not provide. The Investigating Officer had found no reference in any of the documentation that the Chairman of a Ferndown Town Council committee had stopped the councillor in question for disorderly conduct or the councillor had been asked to apologise. He referred to the Standing Orders for the Town Council which did not appear to have been implemented in a firm way. The Investigating Officer had listened to a meeting of Ferndown Town Council dated 27 January 2020 and the transcript was included as a supplemental to the bundle.
As part of his investigation the Investigating Officer had received 3 or 4 emails and a statement from Cllr Willis for Cllr C Lugg and a response from Cllr Baxter for Cllr Hanson Graham.
The Investigating Officer had found it difficult to reconcile the alleged behaviours outlined in the documents without hard facts. There was no evidence from the Town Clerk of Cllr C Lugg ... view the full minutes text for item 44.