The Committee resumed consideration of 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 Chairman called on Mr Lewin, from Cornerstone Barristers to present his report. Mr Lewin, in summary, said that both complaints were well founded and upheld. The conclusion in the report was clear. The YouTube posts were published in an official capacity commenting on Council business and filming on Council premises. The aggressive, intimidating and bullying behaviour brought both Councillor Morris and the Authority into disrepute. He went on to cite instances against the Director of Strategy, Performance and Governance and the Programmes Performance and Governance Manager. A total disregard had been demonstrated for the Code of Conduct which was reflected in the report.
He then referenced Article 10 that provided enhanced protection relating to freedom of expression in the case of political speech, however, he pointed out that this did not apply here as the issue was verbal attacks on officers and those officers should be afforded a level of protection.
In accordance with the complaints procedure, the Chairman then invited Members of the Committee and the Independent Person to ask the Investigator, Mr Lewin 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:
· That in these instances passion was not a fair description for this behaviour. The incident at Performance Governance and Audit Committee was recorded and demonstrated bullying behaviour. That Councillors were in effect employers and that employees should be entitled to a safe work environment.
· That during the course of the investigation the Investigator had found Councillor Morris intimidating and that Councillor Morris’s behaviour was as outlined in the report.
· That the fact an entire Corporate Leadership Team had made a complaint indicated the seriousness of the situation.
A brief discussion ensued around the focus of this report and the importance of setting an example. It was noted that whilst it was appropriate for strong, albeit respectful, discourse between Councillors, it was not possible for Officers to shout back when being shouted at.
In accordance with procedure Councillor Morris questioned the Investigator, Mr Lewin, as to the purpose of his call to the Programmes, Performance and Governance Manager. In response, the Investigator said the purpose was not at issue, it was how the call was dealt with. The Officer felt intimated as a result of the call and reported the issue to the Line Manager.
At this point there was consensus that it would be normal for an officer to defer to their line manager should they feel intimidated and that language used and the manner in which it was used had consequences.
There being no further comment from Committee Members the Chairman invited Councillor Morris to make any representations with respect to the conclusions of the reports. Councillor Morris said he had concerns that he had tried to get addressed but had not been able to do so. He also felt that Councillor Swain’s complaint had no basis. Mr Perry said that they disagreed with the reports.
The Chairman then asked Mr Oram and Mr Lewin if they had any questions for Councillor Morris, they had none. The Chairman then invited the Independent Person to make any representations or give advice. Mr Mitchell said he had listened very carefully to all arguments put forward and that the hearing had been fair. He felt that the allegations in the reports indicated breaches of control . His real concern was the seriousness of an entire Leadership Team submitting a complaint. The reports were well researched, contained sound evidence with serious allegations. These required the Committee’s full attention and in his opinion there had been a breach of the Code of Conduct.