I went to the Code of Conduct Committee meeting yesterday hoping that I might
learn something slightly scandalous to liven up the blog but the closest I came
to a scandal was bumping into Councillor Hackett outside the Civic Offices and
being led through the tradesmen’s entrance around the back. If anyone finds out
he may be in big trouble.
The Agenda had revealed that a Councillor had complained about another Councillor allegedly dishing out budgetary falsehoods to residents and the complaint didn’t even get past the first stage examination. Petty minded aren’t they?
A Member of the Public complained about a Councillor’s language on Twitter and that too got nowhere. The timing is such that the complaint may be the one reported here, and then there was the third one which had me intrigued.
The Labour Group, that is all of them not simply one with an over developed sense of outrage, was complaining about a Councillor’s alleged bad language on Social Media and a failure to declare an interest in something or other. I know very little of the latter but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the former is likely to be a reference to Danny Hackett’s Bollox, bollox, bollox remark after being goaded by several left wing nutters who object to Danny’s unfortunate intolerance of political bullshit. (Unlike Danny I am allowed to use that word. I am not a Councillor thank God.)
The meeting began with Chairman Linda Bailey being concerned about “the gentleman at the back videoing all over the place” so for her benefit I’ll let everyone know that although my five year old camera does have a button marked Video I have never ever used it, not even as an experiment and I am not going to experiment on her. I took three more photos than was intended but only because Councillor James Hunt kept dodging out of view.
The meeting was mainly about a revision to the Code of Conduct but the changes were minor and not the sort of thing to which anyone could reasonably take exception.
There were a few slightly interesting questions and answers and then out of the blue the meeting came to life. Only very briefly but I believe it may well cause Danny Hackett’s current predicament to explode in a few faces. (Please excuse the assumption; I think it’s Danny in the firing line, his presence at last night’s meeting probably confirms it and his questions surely must do, but nobody ever comes clean and says so.)
Anyway, the meeting went like this
Immediately after the preliminaries, Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) asked when the third complaint (Danny’s?) was submitted. Mr. Hollier the Monitoring Officer said “it was submitted some time ago, March of this year and I hope to have it concluded within the next week or so”.
Councillor Slaughter also asked what constituted “a timely fashion” for investigations. Mr. Hollier said he aimed for within 28 days but that is not always possible.
Councillor Hackett sitting in the public area as a Councillor asked if the time taken on investigations was monitored and recorded and how often complaints were made by political groups. He didn’t get a straight answer there and then but was assured that all the data was readily available. My guess is that he thinks a Labour Group complaint is a rarity. The Monitoring Officer volunteered the fact that group complaints are “very few” and they’re “normally simple”.
Councillor Hackett also enquired about the costs incurred by the Council in investigating such Group complaints. I think I am beginning to understand where Danny is going with this.
As if to confirm it he asked for “Publicly Accessible Social Media” to be defined. Did it include extracts taken from Private Facebook accounts to which friends might have access? The Monitoring Officer believed that Private accounts were Public “if they were read by anyone”. This is presumably a warning never to say anything to anybody capable of talking, writing or making semaphore signals.
When the meeting went beyond the new Code of Conduct and got down to the actual procedure for handling complaints the incisive legally trained mind of Councillor Slaughter said the rule which said that complaints must be made within seven days of a breach of the rules might be acceptable to Councillors who knew the ropes but not to a Member of the Public who might take time to realise what courses of action were open to them.
The Monitoring Officer said that the seven days was “given leeway” when it affected Members of the Public but Councillor Slaughter was not happy with that. Neither were Councillors happy with the suggested “within a reasonable time”. Mr Hollier said he would go away and consult on it.
Councillor Hackett jumped in quickly after that, he admitted he was unaware of the seven days rule. His Bollox remarks were made a year and a bit ago and Mr. Hollier had said the complaint was not made until March this year. He asked the very obvious question very directly but Mr. Hollier said he would prefer “not to debate cases here”. Danny moved to “the hypothetical”. Mr. Hollier “did not want to have a hypothetical debate here”. He may not have wished to offer any opinion on Danny’s case but his facial expression was worth a thousand words.
“I think I have the answer I needed” was Councillor Hackett’s only response.
If the complaint is against him and he is not going to all this trouble on behalf of someone else, he is presumably now entitled to have the complaint against him thrown out on the seven day rule. Nine months is a lot longer than seven days.
I have no idea what the Monitoring Officer’s verdict on Danny will be especially in respect of the declaring of interests because I do not know sufficient details of it but I am beginning to think that I will have little option but to seriously embarrass people with whom I have enjoyed a reasonably friendly relationship. Then I will have none left in Council; well maybe Danny and James but no one else.
Note: Mr. Nick Hollier is sitting on the top table.