To consider the report of the Acting Monitoring Officer, (copy enclosed).
Please note that whilst the Committee deliberates the press and public will be excluded from the meeting.
The Committee considered the report of the Acting Monitoring Officer that advised the Committee of two investigations following complaints against Councillor Chrisy Morris in respect of which the Committee was required to adjudicate. The Committee noted that in the in the interests of ensuring that there was a fair hearing, Paul Turner, the Monitoring Officer of Essex County Council had been appointed as Acting Monitoring Officer of Maldon District Council for the purpose of the hearing.
The report set out the seven areas of complaint for consideration by the Committee based on the evidence before them and the sanctions it could apply if it was determined that a breach of the Code of Conduct had occurred.
The Acting Monitoring Officer presented the report and took the Committee through the procedure for complaints determination. He advised the Committee that Mr Oram, the Independent Investigator from ch&I associates, who had carried out an investigation into five complaints from Councillors would present his report first followed by Mr Lewin, from Cornerstone Barristers, who had investigated the complaints from both the Corporate Leadership Team and the Programmes, Performance and Governance Manager. Prior to deferring to Mr Oram, he said that once all reports, discussions and questions had been covered the Committee would deliberate in private.
Mr Oram then took the Committee through the headline issues in his report covering the four complaints. He drew Members’ attention to the summary and the findings of his investigation which had concluded that all four complaints fell within the scope of the Code of Conduct (CoC). At paragraph 5.38 of the report he highlighted several occasions where Councillor Morris’s’ conduct met the definition of bullying and accordingly he had failed to comply with paragraph 3.5 (b) of the CoC. It was further found that Councillor Morris’s behaviour could reasonably be regarded as bringing his office or the authority into disrepute accordingly he had failed to comply with paragraph 3.5(e) of the Code and in terms of Councillor Morris’s disclosure of confidential information, accordingly, he had failed to comply with paragraph 3.6 of the CoC.
In accordance with the Procedure, the Chairman invited Members of the Committee and the Independent Person to ask the Investigator, Mr Oram and the Acting Monitoring Officer any questions.
Officers responded to several questions raised, drawing Members’ attention to specific points within the report, providing clarification and further information including:
With the exception of Councillor Morris there was general consensus that the Code applied to all elected Councillors who signed the ‘Office of Acceptance’ form.
In accordance with procedure Councillor Morris then put his questions to Mr Oram who responded as follows:
· That the Councillor who had used a nickname throughout a meeting was from another authority and that authority found that member to have breached the Code of Conduct.
· That the report did not find a breach in relation to the Councillor Boyce complaint. With the other four complaints there was a breach.
· That in respect of the complaint by Councillor Swain the investigation was to determine if the disrespectful conduct had happened and he felt that this had been established through listening the remote meeting recording of 13 August 2020.
At this point there was a brief discussion around the use of language and how certain words can have serious detrimental reputational impacts when the situation could be a case of not having time to furnish information due to busy schedules.