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Doubt is cast on Bexley Council’s allegations against Councillor Maxine Fothergill.
Mr. Barnbrook is still trying to get straight answers to his questions which followed
Councillor Fothergill’s ‘conviction’ for obtaining a financial
advantage for herself, the punishment for which was not being able to sit on the
Appeals Committee to which she might be tempted to appeal.
Whilst a couple of people have alleged that Councillor Fothergill has been known to live dangerously, there is still no evidence to suggest that the case against her at the Code of Conduct Committee was other than flimsy, totally lacking evidence or just a fit up.
One question that has been answered, albeit not satisfactorily, concerns the appointment of the Independent Person. One is required under the Localism Act passed in 2012.
Rebecca Sandhu was chosen for Bexley in 2013 after the position was advertised and following a selection process. The position was for a period of two years expiring in May 2015.
In 2015 there was no advertisement, there was no new selection process and there was no discussion in Council. The Independent Person was merely listed like this (see below) in a 28 Page Supplement to the 66 Page Agenda to the Council meeting held on 20th May 2015.
Probably nobody noticed. You can elect or reject a councillor every four years. Independent Persons can go on for ever, in Bexley anyway, maybe not in honest boroughs.
Possibly not so easily explained is the decision to exclude members of the public from the Code of Conduct Committee on 10th December.
The Procedural Rules clearly state that the Members of the Committee must be given an opportunity to say whether of not they think the hearing should be in public or behind closed doors.
Then a decision has to be taken. Entirely logical.
However it is not what those who were present on 10th December say happened and the Minutes of the meeting make no reference to any discussion or vote on exclusion. Twice recently I have seen that happen at other meetings where the public might be excluded.
The procedure is that the Chairman says that an exclusion has been recommended by Council officers and asks for a vote in favour. It’s simple enough and insofar that anything is democratic in Bexley, this is.
However the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Committee didn’t do that. She saw the recommendation and the allegation is that she took it upon herself to exclude the public without asking other members. I wasn’t present.
In response to a complaint, Bexley Council has said (sic) “It is clear from the published agenda for the item in relation to the Exclusion of Press and Public preceded the item of substantive business to which the Rules of Procedure to which you refer applies.”
No one is disputing that, the exclusion obviously preceded the substantive business, otherwise the members of the public would have heard the complaint and the need to keep secrets would have gone.
The issue remains that Chairman Cheryl Bacon made no attempt to follow procedures, something for which she has form.
The exclusion vote is not only absent from the Agenda Item, it’s not in the Minutes and three members of the public know they didn’t hear their exclusion either proposed or debated.
Mr. Barnbrook is planning to escalate his complaint and the ensuing obfuscation to the Information Commissioner. I think it is far simpler to assume that Bexley Council is lying again as they always do when caught breaking their own rules or statutes.
Rules of Procedure.