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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Another bizarre decision

Just over a week ago I posted on the rather difficult-to-understand decision of the Ombudsman for Wales in respect of a tweet by Cardiff Liberal Democrat Councillor, John Dixon on scientology. Now, courtesy of Private Eye, I have found another unfathomable decision, this time by the Standards Board in England.

According to the Brighton and Hove News, Green Councillor, Jason Kitcat faces suspension after he was ruled to have broken the councillors’ code of conduct by posting a 12-second clip showing laughter at the expense of Conservative cabinet member, Councillor Geoffrey Theobald.

The clip, which can be viewed here, includes the context in which the laughter occurred but was apparently ruled to have been “used improperly for political purposes”. It was taken from the Councils official webcast of proceedings.

Other complaints that the Green Councillor had “failed to treat his fellow councillors with respect by posting the clips without the prior knowledge or express permission of Councillor Theobald or Councillor Mears” and that Councillor Kitcat “had abused council facilities by infringing the copyright in the webcast images” were dismissed, as they should have been.

Apparently, the Standards Board in England will lift the threat of suspension if Councillor Kitkat apologises to the offended Councillor, who is also a politician and who, last year, received a Special Responsibility Allowances of £10,927 in addition to his basic allowance of £11,205 for his role on the Council. He has refused to do so and I don't blame him.

All the parties involved are in fact politicians. You cannot afford to have a thin skin in politics. The idea that legal and non-confidential material of any kind, official or unofficial, cannot be used for political purposes in this context is not just bizarre but also undemocratic.

In my view it is not the job of the Standards Board in England to be interfering in these issues. Instead they should be telling the complainant that he stood for public office, he took on these responsibilities and he should know that this involves scrutiny as well as some element of mockery. He has to take the rough with the smooth. Get a sense of humour or get out.
Peter. It's not the Ombudsman it's the Standards Board in England. The Code of Conduct for councillors is a classic example of both the law of unintended consequences and what looked like a good idea in the light of Nolan has been abused. The John Dixon case is farcical but you also have to feel sorry for the Ombudsman in Wales who would probably argue that he is only sticking to the letter of the code which argues that you have to have respect for individuals. What you have to ensure as an AM is that the abolition of the Standards Board in England which has been promised by the Coalition is followed by a similar move in Wales.
The Ombudsmen’s' decisions go clearly against Free Speech. Also, suspending an elected official over something so banal is appalling. No Ombudsman should so willingly subvert the wishes of the electorate. That in itself is also appalling. Doesn't democracy mean anything to these Ombudsmen?
Thanks Jeff, my bad, now corrected.
To be honest with you Jeff, I don't feel sorry for the Ombudsman in Wales they are on £70,000+ per year, and for what?
So how do you feel about the actions of Lib Dem council leader Chris Holley when he reported 33 Labour and Conservatives to the Ombudsman after they walked out of a meeting when their legitimate demands to have a controversial e-government project debated in public were rejected? As you know, this resulted in an 18 month investigation involving reams of witness statements and rumoured to have cost in excess of £200,000 before the Ombudsman finally bowed to legal arguments that the council’s position was flawed from the outset.

It strikes me that the Ombudsman and the various standards bodies would have little to do if politicians were not so eager to stitch each other up on a regular basis.
Firstly, I would say that their demands were not legitimate. The advice was very clear that if that report had been discussed in public then it would have severely prejudiced the Council's position and potentially cost the public a lot of money.

Secondly, I did not agree with the reference to the Ombudsman and said so at the time. However, this is just one of many instances of referrals from both sides in Swansea and elsewhere that indicate to me that the system is broken and needs to be scrapped. The code of conduct needs to be rewritten and the Ombudsman powers reined in.
Thanks for highlighting my case Peter.

The hearing was conducted by local councillors interpreting the Standards Board's code of conduct. They found that I had broken the code in failing to show respect to fellow councillors and that I had improperly used council resources for political purposes. The panel only cleared me of failing to follow the authority's reasonable requirements in using the resources, because nothing in the webcast protocol addressed this issue.

Also as a back-bench opposition councillor I am just on the basic allowance of £11k - I do not receive any Special Responsibility Allowance at all.

I will be suspended for 6 months unless I apologise and also undertake 're-training', which I have refused to do. I am appealing the decision and the sanctions.

I completely agree with your conclusions Peter!

I'm coming to the view that councillors shouldn't be able to file claims against each other if this is the kind of time and money wasting that goes on. Let the electorate decide who they think should continue in office and who shouldn't.

More details on my site at:
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