Standards board likened to “Gestapo” by councillor

Standards board likened to “Gestapo” by councillor

By Gareth Dennison | 10/03/2021

Standards board likened to “Gestapo” by councillor

 

A COUNCILLOR judged to have breached the conduct code compared RMBC’s standards board to the Gestapo as he called for meetings to be held in public.

Cllr John Turner was found to have brought the council into disrepute in 2019 when he asked in a meeting about the lack of Christmas carols in Rotherham town centre.

He said he had overheard speculation in a shop queue that it was to avoid “offending immigrants” — and was later reported to the standards board.

Cllr Turner said: “I was requested to attend a meeting with a member of the council’s legal team in order to hopefully assess whether I had committed some sort of felony, such that my question might exacerbate racial disharmony.

“Subsequently, I was directed to attend a hearing with the standards board. In effect, some sort of a trial.

“There were no police with truncheons or guns but I felt the allied intent was there. I went home very upset, went straight to bed and slept for two hours. When I awoke, I had a serious feeling that I wanted to cry, not with guilt but anger.

“Is it the Gestapo I’m dealing with, or human beings who hitherto I had some respect for?”

The Rotherham Democratic Party member added: “What I had done was to report a conversation. This was not a communication which necessarily represented my opinion.”

Cllr Turner quoted comments from judge Lord Denning at a 1975 court case: “It is of the first importance that the members of a local authority should be able to speak their minds freely on a matter of interest in the locality.”

The motion put forward by Cllr Turner last Wednesday (3) said the standards board was not serving the public and was “unfair, biased and not transparent”.

Cllr Allen Cowles, seconding, said RMBC should call for a review of the rules, which are decided at a national level.

He added: “These meetings should be open to the public. Residents should be able to see what transgressions their councillor has made, and how he’s treated.”

Punishments lasted longer than one electoral term, Cllr Cowles added. “You could be removed from a committee for 20 years or more,” he said. “For simply offending someone, you’re treated worse than for a major crime.”

Cllr Clive Jepson, independent, liked the idea of introducing standards and ethics training as part of a councillor’s induction, making specific reference to social media conduct.

The motion was rejected and standards chairman Cllr Rose McNeely said she was confident the board operated in a fair and transparent way.

“The subject member sees all the evidence, can ask any questions of witnesses and make any representation they wish at the hearing,” she added.

“A balanced panel hears all the evidence. The decision is published on the council’s website and reported to council.”

Referring to the last two hearings, in which Labour councillors Sue Ellis and Jonathan Ireland were found to have breached the code, Cllr McNeely added: “If the panel is biased, it is unlikely these decisions would have been made.”

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