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Contact: Matthew Stembrowicz Email: Matthew.Stembrowicz@north-norfolk.gov.uk
TO RECEIVE APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies were received from Cllr A Fitch-Tillett, Cllr G Bull and Cllr R Macdonald, with Cllr A Brown in attendance as a substitute.
ITEMS OF URGENT BUSINESS
To determine any items of business which the Chairman decides should be considered as a matter of urgency pursuant to Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.
Members are asked at this stage to declare any interests that they may have in any of the following items on the agenda. The Code of Conduct for Members requires that declarations include the nature of the interest and whether it is a pecuniary interest.
i. Cllr N Dixon declared that the Subject Member was known to him from a previous administration when they were Members of the same party. He added that the Complainant Cllr L Withington was also known to him, but stated that neither of these relationships would impact his judgement as a Member of the Committee.
ii. Cllr L Shires declared that she was a member of the Liberal Democrat Group at North Norfolk District Council and the Complainant Cllr L Withington was known to her, and she was also aware of the Subject Member through various political campaigns.
iii. Cllr P Porter declared that both the Subject Member and Complainant were known to her, but not to a degree that would influence her objectivity on the Committee. She added that she was also a Member of the Conservative Party.
iv. Cllr A Brown declared that the Complainant was known to him but he was in no way pre-determined on the case to be discussed.
v. Cllr H Blathwayt declared that the Complainant was known to him though he did not know the Subject Member, but this would not impact his objectivity as Chair of the Committee.
EXCLUSION OF THE PRESS AND PUBLIC
To pass the following resolution:
“That under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business on the grounds that they involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraphs 1 and 2 of Part I of Schedule 12A (as amended) to the Act”.
The MO stated that the first matters to consider were whether the Hearing should proceed in public or private session, and whether the Hearing should proceed in the absence of the Subject Member. She added that the starting position of any Standards Committee meeting should always be in favour of a public Hearing, which should only be held in private under limited circumstances where there is justification in law for doing so. It was noted that this related primarily to where individuals are or are likely to be identified by information contained in the report clearly able to identify individuals involved in the investigation. The MO stated that Members should therefore consider whether the public interest fell on holding the meeting in public or private, and this could be determined by the public’s interest in transparency or member conduct. Matters against the public interest were stated to include specific circumstances that would present a compelling reason to debate the matter in private, such as protecting individuals privacy rights. The MO noted that whilst the report did identify individuals, the Complainants were in attendance at the meeting, and both had confirmed that that they were content for the meeting to proceed in public session.
Questions and Discussion
i. The Investigator stated that she had no objections to the Hearing taking place in public in the interest of transparency, so long as no reference was made to sensitive data, and no third parties were identified by referring to them by name.
ii. The MO stated that the Independent Person had been contacted and was supportive of holing the Hearing in public. Similarly the Subject Member had been given the opportunity to provide his preference on holding the Hearing in public or private on at least two occasions, to which he had not responded. She added that previous tribunal cases had operated on the basis that elected Councillors should expect more public scrutiny on their actions, in so far as they were relevant to their public office, and members of the public would therefore have an interest in Councillor conduct as it may influence future elections.
iii. The Chairman asked whether it could be evidenced that the Subject Member had been contacted for their view on whether the Hearing should proceed in public or private, to which the MO replied that she had emails to confirm this.
iv. Cllr N Dixon stated that he saw no reason to move into private session and was therefore supportive of continuing the Hearing in public.
v. Cllr L Shires stated that she was supportive of holding a public Hearing, given that the investigation covered matters which had taken place in public.
vi. Cllr P Porter agreed that the events leading to the investigation had taken place in public and she was therefore supportive of holding the Hearing in public.
vii. Cllr A Brown stated that he agreed that the Hearing should be held in public.
viii. The Chairman agreed that the Hearing should proceed in public. ... view the full minutes text for item 21.
Members are asked to determine whether there has been a breach of the Sheringham Town Council Code of Conduct and if so, whether any sanction should be imposed.
i. The Investigator stated that whilst the Subject Member was not present for the Hearing, he had been given every opportunity to provide a response to the draft and final investigation report. She therefore recommended that the Committee proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Subject Member to avoid any further delays or costs.
ii. The MO advised the Committee that if the Subject Member was absent from the Hearing, Members would need to consider whether they could fairly proceed in their absence. She added that the Human Rights Act outlined that the Subject Member had a right to a fair hearing, and when considering whether it was fair to proceed, Members would need to consider whether the Subject Member was aware of the Hearing, whether they had responded to attendance requests, and the Subject Member’s view on whether it should proceed in public, private or be postponed. The MO referred to correspondence with the Subject Member where they had been advised of the Hearing and their right to respond to the investigation, with advice given that the Hearing may proceed in their absence. She added that the Subject Member replied that they were unaware of the nature of the complaint and would likely not attend, suggesting that it may be best for the Hearing to proceed in their absence. It was noted that the Democratic Services Team had also contacted the Subject Member to share the Committee agenda, and were subsequently informed that they had not been contacted by the MO, with correspondence then being re-sent, causing the Subject Member to say that they were unaware of the complaint and were not likely to attend. On this basis, the MO advised the Committee that in order to proceed with the Hearing, they had to be satisfied that the Subject Member was aware the Hearing was taking place, and that it would be held in a fair and appropriate manner.
Committee Members agreed that they were happy to proceed with the Hearing in the absence of the Subject Member, following discussion of correspondence.
iii. The Investigator gave a summary of the investigation relating to five of six allegations, and noted that the fourth allegation had been considered outside of the scope of the Committee. The remaining five included a social media post criticising a local support group, a social media post with Baconsthorpe Castle including a threatening comment likely relating to a Complainant, a social media post which implied weedkiller had been thrown over the Subject Member’s garden in a politically motivated attack, a social media post relating to parking issues, and allegations of the Subject Member encouraging removal of a Complainant as a Councillor. She added that she would focus on allegations one to three and five to six, where evidence of a breach of the Sheringham TC Code of Conduct had been found.
iv. The Investigator stated that the legal backdrop of the investigation began with the European Convention on Human ... view the full minutes text for item 22.