I don’t think I have been to one of Bexley Council’s Code of Conduct Committee meetings before
but I was a bit concerned that I had to report
the last one
courtesy of several third parties and their information inevitably didn’t line up in every last detail. An audio recording
is so much more reliable.
Also the appointment of a new Independent Person was due to be discussed and how the present one remains in post a year after the appointment expired is a bit of a mystery, and best of all, I estimated that the meeting couldn’t possibly go on for more than 20 minutes.
Although the Committee consists of only six Councillors assisted by three Council Officers the meeting was held in the main Council Chamber complete with microphones, an active hearing loop and ample well placed seating. Possibly this was a reaction to the failure to anticipate a public presence the last time around.
Ironically, given the nature of the meeting, two of the four on the top table are currently being considered by CPS Counsel for a Misconduct in a Public Office charge. On the other hand, this is Bexley so maybe not that big a surprise.
The Independent Person is required by the Localism Act to be consulted when complaints are made against Councillors. In 2013 Bexley went through a recruitment exercise in which they rejected anybody who knew anything about Bexley Council and chose an unknown young woman. That she might come from a family with strong links to the Conservative Party has been denied. The proposal now is that “at least one and if not two additional persons” be appointed to provide some flexibility, probably not a bad idea.
A recruitment campaign will commence “within the next few months”. A panel will be established to supervise “the recommendations of this Committee”.
Councillor Borella asked if the current Independent Person’s extension of office was advertised in case someone else wanted to apply for the position. The Legal Officer, Mr. Alabi, said there was no need to advertise an extension of a post but there is for new appointments.
Councillor Nigel Betts said the current Independent Person was willing to continue until May 2017, “are we looking to appoint somebody before May 2016?”
“Yes, we will be looking to recruit before the current term runs out” said the Head of Legal.
The Chairman asked if “everyone was happy to accept those recommendation as set out” and everyone was.
The Legal Team Manager, Lynn Tyler, said that complaints against Councillors in 2014 had all been judged to be “Not in Breach of the Code”. There was only one complaint in 2015 and it is not yet resolved due to “quasi-judicial” matters. There have been two complaints in 2016, both of which related to an incident at a Planning Committee meeting on 3rd March. Two members of the Council are involved.
The meeting was concluded after nine minutes and nineteen seconds, more than two minutes of which was taken up with the usual preliminaries, agreeing minutes etc.