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Despite the widespread interest there are not an awful lot of certainties about
Councillor Maxine Fothergill’s house buying activities. A major problem is that any
honesty there may be on the Code of Conduct Sub-Committee
is concentrated in one man and if the truth gets out the other two members will blame him.
He will understandably be tight lipped.
A long struggle for the truth lies ahead.
The Committee. Councillors Borella (Labour), Bacon and Betts (Conservative).
Bexley Council has admitted that Councillor Maxine Fothergill is guilty of “actions [which]
could be perceived by an ordinary member of the public, as conferring an
advantage or disadvantage on any person or act to gain financial or other
material benefits for herself”. Perceived? They claim to know how you would react to a
degree of bad behaviour about which you know nothing. Judge and Jury.
It was intended that the public would remain in blissful ignorance of yet another scandal in Watling Street and most of it has. BiB has a way to go before its readers form a majority of the population. How can privileged politicians really know what the man in the street thinks in any situation let alone a subject about which he knows nothing?
Does the Independent Person speak for all 280,000 residents? If she did how do we know? It’s not recorded in the minutes and do we even know she is a legitimate Independent Person? The most recent documentation on Bexley’s website says the post was advertised in 2013 and the appointment made in May of that year was to last two years only.
There is a set of procedures to be observed by the Sub-Committee but we cannot be sure it was followed, in fact we know it wasn’t. After the preliminaries, the Independent Person, the Monitoring Officer, the Investigating Officer, the complainant, the defendant and her representative are supposed to be introduced to the members of the Committee.
Only then should the debate on whether it is appropriate to exclude members of the public take place. I’ve seen and heard such a debate take place at other meetings and the Code of Conduct Agenda correctly listed the standard sequence, but Bexley’s need for secrecy was much greater this time.
The public was not allowed to be present whilst the meeting gathered nor was it able to hear any debate about their exclusion. Exclusion had been recommended by the Committee Officer and the Chairman must have decided beforehand to accept it without debate. No one expected the public to show up and spoil things.
Deciding in advance which way to jump is not in the spirit of the procedures and not even bothering to go through the motions must drive a coach and horses through them but Bexley Council didn't want the name of the offender or her offence to become known.
The Chairman is allowed to vary the sequence (Paragraph 3.2) if it would “secure effective and fair consideration of any matter”. Contriving total secrecy is not fairness and a complaint about chairman Cheryl Bacon’s conduct is inevitable. Last time that happened she lied herself all the way to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The public should have been made aware of the complaint. The details are not Personal under Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act; some parts may be but not all of it. Just because there appears to have been fraud involved instead of the more usual petty disagreement with a resident it is not an excuse for varying the rules.
At the time of writing I am aware of nine Freedom of Information requests seeking to clarify what happened. If Bexley Council refuses them we will all know that clarification is the last thing they desire.
Note: The UKIP report about the scale of the deception has been discounted in some quarters. A very large sum but maybe the use of the plural was exaggeration.