To consider the conclusions of the external investigating officer.
Contact Officer: Ifty Ali 01296 585032
Firstly, the Sub-Committee determined that in the interests of transparency, the hearing should be held in open session. Although having been served all the papers showing the date, time and place of the hearing and including the investigating officer’s report, the Parish Councillor, Mr J Wheeler, against whom the complaint had been made, did not attend. The Sub-Committee heard from the Monitoring Officer that he had spoken to Parish Councillor Wheeler and he was aware of the hearing venue and time.
The Sub-Committee received the report of the independent investigator appointed by the Monitoring Officer to consider a complaint made by Mrs Butler-Walters concerning alleged breaches of Haddenham Parish Council’s Code of Conduct by Parish Councillor J Wheeler. (A copy of the independent investigator’s report, excluding appendices and redacted as appropriate are attached to these Minutes).
The detail of the complaint is contained in section 3 of the investigating officer’s report. In summary, it related to Parish Councillor Wheeler’s actions in relation to the parking of a vehicle by Mrs Butler-Walters on land in the vicinity of a children’s playground adjacent to Haddenham Village Hall. The relevant section of the Code of Conduct was as follows:-
“When a member of the Council acts, claims to act or gives the impression of acting as a representative of the Council, he/she shall have the following obligations:-
1. He/she shall behave in such a way that a reasonable person would regard as respectful.
2. He/she shall not act in a way that a reasonable person would regard as bullying or intimidatory.”
The Chairman of the Sub-Committee explained the procedure for the hearing.
The investigating officer presented her report and individual Sub-Committee Members were given an opportunity to question her about various aspects of her investigations. The investigating officer was then given an opportunity to sum up her case.
Having discussed the investigating officer’s findings, she was invited to leave the room whilst Members considered their decisions in consultation with the Independent Person and Parish Representative. The Sub-Committee then invited the investigating officer back into the room and delivered their decisions and explain the rationale. (These are set out in the resolution to this Minute).
(1) That, for the reasons indicated below, the Sub-Committee finds that Parish Councillor J Wheeler’s behaviour amounted to a breach of Haddenham Parish Council’s Code of Conduct:-
All the evidence appeared to confirm that there had been an altercation on the day in question. The fact that Parish Councillor Wheeler was wearing a high visibility tabard, had access to traffic cones, had indicated that formal proceedings could be taken against Mrs Butler-Walters and, when asked, gave his name as “Councillor John Wheeler”, would in all probability lead any reasonable person to conclude that he was acting in his capacity as a Parish Councillor. The Sub-Committee concurred with the investigating officer’s view that Haddenham Parish Council’s Code of Conduct was engaged. (The Code is engaged when a Member of the Council acts, claims to act or gives the impression of acting as a representative of the Council).
The Sub-Committee accepted that whilst Parish Councillor Wheeler’s irritation might be considered understandable, again, any reasonable person might not have regarded his actions as being respectful and could have considered them to be bullying or intimidating.
(2) That, being satisfied that a breach of Haddenham Parish Council’s Code of Conduct had occurred, the following actions be taken:-
· That a formal letter be sent to Parish Councillor Wheeler setting out the Sub-Committee’s decision and rationale, with a copy to the Parish Clerk.
· That in the letter to Parish Councillor Wheeler, it be suggested to him that he might wish to consider making an apology to Mrs Butler-Walters.
· That, given that during the discussions between the investigating officer and Parish Councillor Wheeler there appeared to be some uncertainty around training on the Code of Conduct and in particular the boundaries between a Councillor's role and other roles he/she might have, the Parish Council be recommended to consider formal training for all its Members on the Code of Conduct.