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Prejudicial interest of the Chair/Mayor

0 votes

My apologies, this is a bit of a long one!

Could somebody please advise on the following situation.

A motion was tabled at a recent full (Parish) Council meeting that ‘no elected member may sit on the Finance and General Purpose Committee (F&GP) if in possession of a criminal record until such time as the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in their individual case be spent.’ The motion was tabled as a councilor who has a current conviction for theft of public funds (while holding office as the Mayor, no less!) was elected by his fellow independent councilors to chair the Finance committee.  There are several points :

a) The original appointment of the nominee was ratified despite his conviction being public knowledge and widely reported at the time of the arrest, trial and conviction.  The current Mayor chaired the meeting at which the appointment was confirmed but failed to declare either at the meeting or on her register of interests, that she had a business relationship with the nominee to chair the F&PG committee in so far as her private residential address was the registered address for a company in which the nominee was one of only two directors. The company was registered on 1st September 2014, this meeting took place in early June 2015 and the registered address of the business was changed on 5th July after this relationship came to light.  There are still no entries on the register of interest of either the Mayor or the other Councilor.

b) Following public outrage at the appointment, a new Stating Order (detailed above) was proposed at the next meeting.  The motion was passed - 6 for, 3 against and 2 abstentions.  

c) At the following council meeting the Acting Chair (the Mayor was on holiday) declined to ratify the Standing Order on the basis that the Council were seeking 'legal clarification' of the wording.  It appears that they were unclear whether the wording applied current members of the council.  Several Councils, including the one who had proposed the motion and a second councilor who is a retired barrister, stated that the Standing Order had been passed at the previous meeting and therefore stood until such a time as it was overturned by a higher court or by the Council themselves.  The Acting Chair again declined to ratify the motion until such time as legal advice had been received.

Does anyone have any comments about a) the legalities of the situation b) have any rules/regulations or code of conduct been broken c) what is the best form of redress?  Needless to say there is public outrage at this situation but the Independents on the Council hold the majority and they are voting en bloc to protect both the Mayor and the councilor with the criminal conviction (two convictions, both for theft, but only one is current).  Is there anything the public can do to right this situation?  

Thank you very much for your time and advice!

by (120 points)

1 Answer

0 votes
This is quite a complicated scenario!

The procedural issues aren't clear, as I don't know what is meant by "ratified" or "confirmed". By and large, decisions come before a council by being put on the agenda (which must be published at least three clear days before the meeting). Many councils have a procedure for standing orders that requires them to be discussed and agreed at one meeting, then held over to the next meeting at which they are an agenda item to be passed or not, but without discussion.

It is not really the role of councillors to decide on legal issues, but the clerk has a duty to exclude agenda items that are not lawful. For myself, I cannot see anything unlawful about the proposed change to your standing orders.

The questions of interest are not straightforward either. I'm reluctant to venture an opinion about exactly what ought to be on the register of interests in these quite complex circumstances. If you would like to pursue that aspect of things, the best thing is to raise them with the senior legal officer of your local district council, who is responsible for these matters.

Turning to what can be done, the council can (probably without requiring an agenda item) remove a committee member. So if the whole council agrees that the individual should not be on the committee, it is in their hands to take action. From the public perspective, there is nothing the public can do directly that will be binding on the council in this kind of matter. They can press the council to take action, and 10 citizens can requisition a parish meeting and pass motions - although they will not be binding on the council. The ultimate recourse only comes round at election times.
by (30.6k points)

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