To consider a report including information on an appeal against a decision taken by the Monitoring Officer on a complaint received about a councillor. (Report No:124)
The Committee received the report of the Monitoring Officer setting out the details of the complaint received from Mrs Kate Leach against Councillor Daniel Anderson and the subsequent appeal from Mrs Leach. (Report No: 124).
1. The former interim Monitoring Officer presented her report to the Committee highlighting the following:
· The original complaint had been received by Asmat Hussain, the former Monitoring Officer, within the required 3 months.
· Asmat Hussain had asked Jill Bayley, principal lawyer, to carry out an internal investigation into the original complaint, on her behalf. She had also consulted Sarah Jewell as Independent Person.
· Having reviewed the investigation report, Jayne Middleton Albooye had agreed to uphold the recommendations made, that Councillor Anderson had not been in breach of the Councillor Code of Conduct.
· The “to follow” documents included comments from the complainant in support of her appeal.
2. Jill Bayley highlighted the following from her independent investigation report:
· Two sets of interviews had been carried out. The first with Councillor Anderson, Mr George Dunnion and Mrs Kate Leach and the second with Stephen Genus, the caretaker at Garfield School and David Taylor, Head of Traffic and Transportation at Enfield Council. David Taylor who had had responsibility for the disputed decision.
· Councillor Anderson had been asked to apologise at an early stage in the investigation but had not consented to do so.
· In relation to the first allegation on lack of accountability, she had had at first had some concern that Councillor Anderson had not accepted that he had to be accountable, stating at one point “I don’t have to be accountable”. This had been queried by Jayne Middleton Albooye in a later interview and Jill Bayley had subsequently felt that Councillor Anderson had misunderstood her questioning and that he did fully accept accountability for the decision he had taken in his role as a Cabinet Member, but was not accountable to Mrs Leach, as a ward councillor, as he was not her ward councillor. Jill Bayley had concluded that Councillor Anderson had felt that he had been following correct procedures.
· In relation to the second allegation on the lack of openness, the investigation had revealed that there had been several conversations between officers and Councillor Anderson, between officers and Mrs Leach, a meeting with ward councillors and that information on the decision and the reasons behind it had been provided to residents. Although Councillor Anderson may not have responded in the most appropriate manner, Jill Bayley concluded that there had been not a deliberate attempt to avoid openness.
· In relation to the third allegation on lack of respect and courtesy it had been clear that the incident had been heated and had escalated quickly, but Jill Bayley concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Councillor Anderson had acted in a way which showed a lack of respect. There had also been evidence that he had tried to calm things down.
· In relation to the fourth allegation of bullying, Jill Bayley concluded that there was no evidence to support the allegation. The time frame had been very short, as the incident occurred 5 minutes before the surgery was due to end. The complainants would have been aware of this when they attended the surgery.
3. Sarah Jewell (Independent Person) who had been consulted on the case by the Monitoring Officer advised that:
· She had felt Councillor Anderson had shown himself to be accountable and referred the committee to the email he had written on the day following the surgery included as page 26 of the investigation report.
· On openness she felt that it was not the role of the Cabinet Member to have to go into detail to justify every decision they had made. There was a need to manage public expectations in this area.
· On respect and courtesy she felt that there had been no independent evidence that Councillor Anderson had behaved with discourtesy and that he had been in a vulnerable position which had obviously shaken him up. His use of language had not been ideal, but it probably reflected how he felt in the situation.
· On bullying she felt that there was no evidence.
4. The members of the Committee discussed the report as follows:
· They considered whether or not Councillor Anderson had shown himself to be accountable and whether he had handled the situation well. Members agreed that the situation could have been handled in a better way.
· Concern was expressed about the current culture towards politicians and the expectation that they should always be available to respond to residents and justify their decisions. It had been an especially difficult time for elected representatives, because of the recent murder of Jo Cox MP.
· They considered whether it had been appropriate for the ward councillors to refer their constituents direct to the Cabinet Member. Some members felt that a ward councillor ought to take up issues on behalf of their constituents with the relevant Cabinet member, rather than refer members to him direct. They felt that more needed to be done to manage resident’s expectations of their councillors.
· A possible explanation as to how the door of the room where the surgery was being held came to be locked was put forward by Jill Bayley who had visited the school. She thought that the chair that was holding the door open had been accidently knocked out of the way allowing the door to close automatically on its spring. There was a button which could have been used to open the door, but this was not obvious to those unfamiliar with the room.
· Councillor Anderson’s use of language and reference to “an ambush and a lynch mob” were discussed. Members agreed that such language was ill advised, that the incident had been regrettable, but did not feel these words could be considered to breach the code of conduct.
· It was not clear whether Councillor Anderson had followed up his complaint to the police, although Jill Bayley advised that she was not aware of any criminal investigation.
· It was felt that more guidance was required for the public on what they could expect from ward surgeries which were very different from a public meeting or ward forum.
· There were lessons to be learned from the incident including on the need for security, that members ought not to attend surgeries alone. The suggestion was made that surgeries should always be held in a more public arena where support could be called on if needed. Residents needed a clear route map, a simple guide so they could see a way forward, if they wished to query a decision.
· The view that the evidence was very finally balanced, but that allowance should be made for Councillor Anderson’s vulnerability in the light of recent threats. A Southgate Green ward forum had recently had to be cancelled on the instruction of the Borough Commander.
· Understanding of the residents’ point of view and sympathy with their frustration
5. The Committee reviewed and discussed the information received above.
· Christine Chamberlain (Independent Person) asked if Jill Bayley could respond to the allegation in Mrs Leach’s response that she had given greater credence to Councillor Anderson’s evidence than her own. Jill Bayley responded that she had carefully considered all the evidence but had to work on the balance of probabilities.
Following the discussion, the Committee:
AGREED not to uphold the appeal against the Monitoring Officer’s decision on the complaint against Councillor Daniel Anderson and to endorse the Monitoring Officer decision that Councillor Anderson had not been in breach of the Councillor Code of Conduct.
The decision was made on the following basis:
In reviewing the allegations relating to Councillor Anderson’s behaviour at the ward surgery on 15 November 2016, the Committee agreed with the conclusions of the investigating officer’s report as follows:
The reason for their decision was:
That they agreed with the findings of the investigation report and with the recommendation that all four complaints against Councillor Anderson be dismissed.
As an outcome of the investigation it was agreed that the party whips should feedback the following recommendations to their respective groups: -
1. Where there were known contentious local issues, greater clarity should be provided to the public as to how they engage with the Council and raise their concerns;
2. Arrangements for ward surgeries should be reviewed to ensure the safety of members of the public and councillors in attendance.