Complaints against councillors – 69 lodged in one year

Allegations that councillors in the East Riding bullied, spread “lies” and got embroiled in social media spats were among the 69 complaints lodged with the council in a year.

Sunday, 1st August 2021, 3:45 pm
County Hall in Beverley.

A report stated claims made in the complaints included a Spaldington parish councillor bullying another and a resident over declaring interests on a planning application.

An East Riding member also on Market Weighton Town Council was investigated over claims they attempted to influence the outcome of a mayoral race by publishing documents online.

Another East Riding councillor was referred to the authority’s Code of Conduct over allegations they had misused their position to help their spouse and a group she was member of.

It comes as the report to the council’s Standards Committee stated 57 complaints were taken up, including 54 new ones lodged from May 2020 to April 2021, with five withdrawn.

It added 12 were then investigated, including five referred for ‘other action’ such as apologies or further training, including two concerning the same councillor.

No complaints were referred to the council’s Standards Committee for a final ruling during the period, with investigations conducted and concluded by officers.

Complaints taken up also included claims a Hornsea town councillor publicly suggested their accuser was lying over claims they were improperly using their position during a planning hearing.

A Newport parish councillor was alleged to have bullied the authority’s former clerk while an East Riding member was investigated over their behaviour at a 2019 general election count.

A North Cave parish councillor was reminded of their duty to be respectful to others following “aggressive” behaviour towards their accuser.

A Withernsea town councillor was referred back to the Code of Conduct over a post on social media and comments made in messages to others on the authority.

Officers mediated between the complainant and councillor in the mayor election case over the latter encouraging people to circulate a letter which they said contained malicious “lies”.

David Waxman, an independent member of the public on the council’s Standards Committee, called for councillors to be more “circumspect” when using social media.

Council Monitoring Officer Matthew Buckley told the committee “a lot” of the complaints received related to comments made by councillors online.

He added councillors were told in induction training to be clear whether they were posting in a personal or official capacity on social media and to show other users respect.

Committee Chair Cllr Tim Norman said he often found the backspace button “the most important” when using social media.

Mr Buckley also told the committee approaching councillors referred for other action could be difficult unless officers were “sure” of the facts.

The officers said: “We have to be certain before taking some of the issues forward.

“If we approach a councillor and ask them to apologise they could come back and tell us the case isn’t as straight forward as that.”

Councillors heard the proof standard used for complaints was on balance of probabilities rather than the beyond reasonable doubt approach used in the courts.

Mr Buckley said that meant officers and committees investigating complaints had to decide which party to side with based on what each told them.