Agenda and minutes

Standards Committee
Monday, 2nd March, 2020 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 1, Civic Offices, High Street, Epping. View directions

Contact: Gary Woodhall  Tel: 01992 564243 Email:  democraticservices@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

1.

Substitute Members

(Democratic Services Manager) To report the appointment of any substitute members for the meeting in accordance with Council Rule S1 in the Constitution (Part 4 “The Rules” refers).

Minutes:

The Committee noted the following substitutions:

 

·        Cllr H Kane for Cllr G Chambers.

2.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 68 KB

(Democratic Services Manager) To confirm the minutes of the last meeting of the Committee, held on 17 January 2019, as a correct record (attached).

Minutes:

          Resolved:

 

          (1)      That the minutes of the meeting held on 17 January 2019 be           taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.

3.

Declarations of Interest

(Democratic Services Manager) To declare interests in any item on the agenda.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest pursuant to the Councillor Code of Conduct.

4.

Allegations Made about the Conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors pdf icon PDF 128 KB

(Monitoring Officer) To consider the attached schedule showing the current position of active cases (STD-001-2019/20).

Minutes:

The Monitoring Officer presented a report on the allegations that had been made about the conduct of District and Town/Parish Councillors since the last meeting in January 2019.

 

The Monitoring Officer reported that all of the shaded complaints on the report had been dealt with; there were currently 3 complaints in progress, all connected with Chigwell Parish Council.

 

            Resolved:

 

(1)        That the allegations made about the conduct of District and Town/Parish Councillors, and the subsequent actions taken, be noted.

5.

Imposition of Charges for Dealing with Parish Council Complaints of a Breach of the Councillor Code of Conduct pdf icon PDF 114 KB

(Monitoring Officer) To consider the attached report (STD-002-2019/20).

Minutes:

The Monitoring Officer presented a report to consider the imposition of charges for dealing with Parish Council complaints of a breach of the Councillor Code of Conduct.

 

The Monitoring Officer informed the Committee that 80% of her time was spent dealing with Code of Conduct complaints – the vast majority of which were from Parish Councils and very often the same Parish Councils. A great deal of time and resources was spent investigating these complaints, and it was felt that the introduction of a charging mechanism for these complaints would recover some of the costs involved in undertaking the investigations, and potentially remove some of the personal complaints.

 

The Monitoring Officer added that there were three Parish Councils in particular that accounted for a high proportion of the complaints, and it was suggested that a charge of £100 per hour could be levied with an upper limit of £5,000. It was not intended to charge for advice on procedures, only for Code of Conduct investigations.

 

Parish Cllr J Whybrow expressed some reservations about this course of action as Parish Councils could not necessarily control the amount of complaints made to the Monitoring Officer if they were vexatious, and also enquired whether the Joint Parish Councils Standards Committee had an interest in this matter? Cllr N Avey felt that a distinction should be made between complaints from the public and complaints from other Parish Councillors; investigations for Councillor complaints should be charged for as they were more likely to be frivolous. The Monitoring Officer added that the complaints for Nazeing and High Ongar Parish Councils were made by other Parish Councillors, whereas the complaints about Chigwell Parish Council were made by the public and the Residents Association. Mr D Cooper, an independent member, did not feel that there should be any discrimination between complaints made by Councillors and complaints made by the public, as the Council should not charge to stop bona fide complaints. However, Mr Cooper did accept that charging for investigations could stop the frivolous complaints and would make people believe in what they were complaining about.

 

The Monitoring Officer reiterated that she did not anticipate charging the public for investigations as there had been relatively few of them, just the Parish Councils for investigating the Councillor to Councillor complaints. Cllr H Kane stated that, at Waltham Abbey Town Council, any misunderstandings between Town Councillors were usually dealt with internally. Cllr C Roberts also expressed his reservations about charging for investigations as it could discourage bona fide complaints being made, whilst Cllr C P Pond was also not comfortable with charging for investigations and felt that Nazeing and High Ongar Parish Councils simply needed more training. The Monitoring Officer explained that a lot of Councils did not charge for investigating complaints, although there was one which did charge an hourly rate. The Committee felt that there needed to be consultation with the Local Councils before this was introduced, including the local Councils in the other Standards regime.

 

Cllr J  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Dates of Future Meetings

(Democratic Services Manager) Following the decision of the Council that the Standards Committee be convened to meet only when there is business to be transacted (Council 26 April 2016, minute 12 refers), there are no formal meetings arranged for the remainder of the municipal year. However, further meetings of the Committee can be arranged if required.

Minutes:

The Committee noted that, following the decision of the Council for the Standards Committee to be convened to meet only when there was business to be transacted, there were no formal meetings arranged for the remainder of the municipal year.

7.

Exclusion of Public and Press

Exclusion

To consider whether, under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public and press should be excluded from the meeting for the items of business set out below on grounds that they will involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in the paragraph(s) of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act indicated:

 

 

Agenda Item No

Subject

Exempt Information Paragraph Number

9

Allegations Made About the conduct of District and Parish/Town Councillors – Issues Arising

1, 3 & 6a

 

Background Papers

Article 17 of the Constitution (Access to Information) define background papers as being documents relating to the subject matter of the report which in the Proper Officer's opinion:

 

(a)        disclose any facts or matters on which the report or an important part of the report is based;  and

 

(b)        have been relied on to a material extent in preparing the report and does not include published works or those which disclose exempt or confidential information and in respect of executive reports, the advice of any political advisor.

 

The Council will make available for public inspection one copy of each of the documents on the list of background papers for four years after the date of the meeting. Inspection of background papers can be arranged by contacting either the Responsible Officer or the Democratic Services Officer for the particular item.

Minutes:

          Resolved:

 

(1)        That the public and press be excluded from the meeting for the items of business set out below on the grounds that they would involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in the paragraphs of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972:

 

Agenda                                                                       Exempt Information

Item No.          Subject                                               Paragraph Number

 

9                      Allegations made about the                1, 3 & 6a

                        Conduct of District and Parish/

                        Town Councillors – Issues arising

8.

Allegations Made about the Conduct of District and Town/Parish Councillors - Issues Arising

(Monitoring Officer) To consider the attached report (STD-003-2019/20).

Minutes:

The Monitoring Officer presented a report regarding a series of complaints about the conduct of business at Chigwell Parish Council.

 

The Monitoring Officer stated that the complaints had come from two different sources: The Chigwell Residents Association; and an individual member of the public. Some complaints were out of time for consideration as they referred to events which had taken place more than twelve months before the complaint was submitted (as specified in the procedure for dealing with complaints of a breach of the Code of Conduct) and other complaints related to Councillors who had left the Parish Council. The Committee were reminded that the sanctions which could be imposed were limited and generally included action such as: a recommendation to attend training; an apology; or formal censure. It was recommended that the investigation should be conducted by an independent investigator.

 

Cllr S Kane felt that the Council had a responsibility to investigate the allegations and investigate them thoroughly; they were being openly discussed on social media. Cllr C Roberts agreed that there was a public perception issue and these allegations should be investigated. Cllr B Rolfe requested a full report with a plan of investigation before the Council proceeded with any investigation. Cllr C P Pond suggested that the independent members of the Committee could assist the Monitoring Officer with the investigation.

 

            Resolved:

 

(1)        That all of the complaints be fully investigated by the Monitoring Officer, using the assistance of the independent Members of the Standards Committee.