Agenda, decisions and draft minutes

Standards Sub-Committee
Tuesday 29th September 2020 7.00 pm

Items
No. Item

1.

APPOINTMENT OF CHAIRMAN

To appoint a Chairman of the Sub-Committee for the meeting.

Minutes:

It was agreed that Councillor Tony Kingsbury should be appointed as Chairman for the meeting.

 

2.

INTRODUCTION OF SUB COMMITTEE PANEL MEMBERS AND OTHER ATTENDEES

Minutes:

The Chairman, Councillor Tony Kingsbury introduced the Sub-Committee Panel Members as, Councillors Paul Zukowskyj, Alan Chesterman and Parish Councillor Bill Morris. Councillor Morris, as a co-opted Member, did not have voting rights.

 

3.

DECLARATIONS OF INTERESTS BY MEMBERS

To note declarations of Members’ disclosable pecuniary interests, non-disclosable pecuniary interests and non-pecuniary interests in respect of items on the Agenda.

 

Minutes:

None declared.

4.

CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENT - INFORMATION ABOUT THE COMMITTEE

The Standards Sub Committee Hearings Panel consists of three elected Members of the Council who are Members the Council’s Standards Committee. This meeting has been called to consider an Investigator’s report in respect of alleged complaints made against a Hatfield Town Council Councillor. Where the complaint relates to a Town or Parish Councillor, the non-voting Parish Council co-opted member of the Standards Committee may be present.  This meeting will be held in 2 parts, the first part of this meeting will be held in a public session to consider public information. The Sub-Committee will then be asked to resolve to move into an exempt session where that part of the meeting will not be accessible by members of the public and press. The reason for this is to consider confidential or   exempt information. Following this, the Sub-Committee will then be asked to resolve to move back into a public session to announce its decision.

 

Minutes:

The Chairman announced that the Sub-Committee consisted of three elected Members of the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s Standards Committee and a Parish/Town Councillor.

 

The meeting had been called to consider the complaint made in respect of a Councillor of Hatfield Town Council, Councillor Lenny Brandon. As this matter related to a Town Council, the Parish/Town Councillor who has been co-opted onto the Council’s Standards Committee has been invited and will be present at the hearing but will not have voting rights.

 

Members were advised that the meeting would be held in two parts; part one being held in the public session and the Sub-Committee would be asked to resolve to move into an exempt session, this session will not be accessible by the public or press, as exempt and confidential information will be discussed. The Sub-Committee will resolve to move into the public session for the Sub-Committee’s decision to be announced.

 

5.

THE HEARING OF A COMPLAINT pdf icon PDF 138 KB

Report of the Monitoring Officer on the hearing of a complaint concerning an alleged breach of the Hatfield Town Council Code of Conduct for Councillors by a Hatfield Town Council Member.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Monitoring Officer advised the Sub-Committee that in August and September 2019, complaints had been lodged in respect of Councillor Lenny Brandon, a Hatfield Town Councillor.  Councillor Brandon is the current Leader of the Town Council, being elected from within its majority party.  Councillor Brandon is also a Councillor of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council but these complaints do not relate to him in that capacity.  A summary of the allegations was set out in the report and Panel Members will have had the opportunity to read the papers in advance.

 

The Panel was advised that it was the role of this Sub-Committee to consider all the evidence put forward; these were only allegations at this stage and a decision would be made on a balance of probabilities.

 

The report noted that the Monitoring Officer had consulted with an Independent Person, Mr Ian Jobson who was appointed by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. The view of the Independent Person must be sought and taken into account, when making any substantial decisions or referrals under the complaints process before reporting back to the Town Council.

 

The role of the investigator was explained by the Monitoring Officer.  The investigator, Ms Olwen Brown of Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP was appointed by the Council to investigate the complaint in accordance with the Borough Council’s procedures.

 

The Standards Sub-Committee considered the complaint against the adopted Hatfield Town Council Code of Conduct for Councillors (the Code) found at Annex B of the public part of this report and must decide after hearing all the representations made, whether there has been a breach of the Code by the Member.

 

The content of the complaints contained substantial sensitive personal information and therefore it was proposed that the main part of this hearing would be considered in an exempt session, in order that the Standards Sub-Committee could fully consider the material submitted by the parties. The details of the sensitive personal information were dealt with in a separate exempt report for consideration by the Standards Sub-Committee.   The allegations related to two issues.  The first set of allegations centred on the alleged conduct by the Member of bullying a senior employee of the Town Council. The second set of allegations centred around an alleged failure by the Member to declare relevant interests, excluding council staff from meetings with contractors or potential contractors and obtaining a personal benefit from a number of Council contracts.

 

6.

EXCLUSION OF PRESS AND PUBLIC

The Committee is asked to resolve:

 

That under Section 100(A)(2) and (4) of the Local Government Act 1972 (the Act) , the press and public be now excluded from the meeting for items  7, 8 and 9 on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of confidential or exempt information as defined in Sections 100A(3) and 100 A (I) of the Act.

 

In resolving to exclude the public in respect of the exempt information, it is considered that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

 

Minutes:

The Panel agreed to the exclude the press and public under Section 100(A)(2) and (4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be now excluded from the meeting for Item 7 on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of confidential or exempt information as defined in Section 100(A)(3) and Paragraph 3 (private financial or business information) and Paragraph 5 (legal and professional privilege) of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the said Act (as amended).

 

In resolving to exclude the public in respect of the exempt information, it was considered that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosing the information.

 

7.

THE HEARING OF THE COMPLAINT

Report of the Monitoring Officer on the hearing of a complaint concerning an alleged breach of the Hatfield Town Council Code of Conduct for Councillors by a Hatfield Town Council Member.

 

8.

RETIREMENT OF THE SUB-COMMITTEE TO DELIBERATE ON THE MATTER

9.

RESOLUTION OF SUB-COMMITTEE TO MOVE BACK INTO PART 1 PUBLIC SESSION

10.

CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE SUB COMMITTEE'S DECISION AND RECOMMENDATION

Decision:

NOTICE OF DECISION

 

WELWYN HATFIELD BOROUGH COUNCIL

 

STANDARDS SUB-COMMITTEE – 29 SEPTEMBER 2020

 

CODE OF CONDUCT COMPLAINT- COUNCILLOR LENNY BRANDON, HATFIELD TOWN COUNCIL

 

 

Details of the Complaint

 

In August and September 2019, complaints were lodged by the Hatfield Town Council (HTC) Town Clerk in respect of Councillor Lenny Brandon, in his capacity as a Hatfield Town Councillor. There were two elements to the complaints. The first was an allegation of bullying and lack of respect. The second set of allegations centred around an alleged failure by Councillor Brandon to declare relevant interests, excluding council staff from meetings with contractors or potential contractors and obtaining a personal benefit from a number of council contracts.

 

Under Section 28 of the Localism Act 2011, the borough council has a statutory duty to consider complaints of alleged breaches of councillor codes of conduct, for town and parish councils within its area.

 

The matter was referred for investigation and on completion of the investigation, the investigator reached the finding that, on a balance of probabilities, there was sufficient evidence to substantiate the complaint of bullying. This was in breach of the Hatfield Town Council Code of Conduct (the Code) that requires its councillors to behave respectfully and not act in a way that would be regarded as bullying or intimidatory.

 

In respect of the second set of allegations which would potentially have been a breach of the part of the Code that requires a councillor not to improperly seek to confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person, the investigator reached the finding that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate these claims and there was no breach of the Code on this basis.

 

As a breach had been found, the matter was then referred to the Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s Standards Sub-Committee for consideration. The meeting took place on the 29th September 2020.

 

The Standards Sub-Committee was not obliged to accept the investigator’s findings and was entitled to review all the relevant evidence and reach its own decision.

 

Investigator’s Findings

 

Bullying

The ACAS Guide for Employees says, “Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient”.

The Guide goes on to describe examples of bullying/harassing behaviour as:

·           spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone by word or behaviour (copying memos that are critical about someone to others who do not need to know, ridiculing or demeaning someone picking on them or setting them up to fail);

·           exclusion or victimisation

·           unfair treatment

·           overbearing supervision or other misuse of power or position

·           unwelcome sexual advances

·           making threats or comments about job security without foundation

·           deliberately undermining a competent worker by overloading and constant criticism

·           preventing individuals progressing by intentionally blocking promotion or training opportunities”.

The key features that led to the investigator’s finding on this issue were:

·         Councillor Brandon’s style of ‘micro-management’ which was not in accordance with the Hatfield Town Council’s own rules.

·         The manner in which  ...  view the full decision text for item 10.

Minutes:

The Sub-Committee having heard all the evidence and deliberated to consider the matter, on a balance of probabilities, agreed with the findings of the Investigator.

 

In respect of the first set of allegations centred around alleged conduct by Councillor Brandon of bullying the Town Clerk, the Sub-Committee found that Councillor Brandon did breach the Hatfield Town Council Code of Conduct for Councillors. This was on the basis that Councillor Brandon, as evidenced by a number of examples, did not behave respectfully toward the Town Clerk and acted in a way that could be regarded as bullying or intimidatory towards the Town Clerk.

 

In respect of the second set of allegations centred around an alleged failure by Councillor Brandon to declare relevant interests, excluding council staff from meetings with contractors or potential contractors and obtaining a personal benefit from a number of council contracts, the Sub-Committee agreed with the Investigator’s findings and on the evidence heard, that Councillor Brandon had not breached the Hatfield Town Council Code of Conduct for Councillors on this basis. Accordingly, no further action will be taken on this part of the complaint.

Reasons for the Sub-Committee’s Decision

 

The Sub-Committee on the 29th September 2020 met to hear representations both from the investigator and Councillor Brandon. Councillor Brandon called a number of witnesses in support of his case and the Sub-Committee carefully listened to all the evidence at the hearing.

 

On the bullying allegations, the Sub-Committee were of the view that Councillor Brandon was clearly a person whose motives were well meaning. He was clearly passionate about his role as a councillor and wanted to do the best he could for Hatfield.

 

However, on taking up his role as Leader at Hatfield Town Council, he failed to obtain the necessary training and induction to fulfil that role in the correct manner.

 

The Sub-Committee was particularly concerned about the ‘hands on’ role that Councillor Brandon took on at the Town Council, in breach of its standing orders and financial regulations. His lack of appreciation of the public sector processes and value of appropriate training could have been reasons for that.

 

This led to a ‘micro-management’ style of the Town Clerk and other members of her staff that could be seen to be undermining. Whilst Councillor Brandon may have been of the view that Town Clerk was performing poorly, there are established standards of performance management that clearly had not been considered or implemented in the time he has been Leader of the Town Council.

 

On the second set of allegations, the Sub-Committee considered the investigator’s report and heard further evidence from Councillor Brandon. On this basis, they agreed that there was no case to answer and no breach of the Code.

 

The Chairman then invited the Investigator, Independent Person and Councillor Brandon to address the Sub-Committee on appropriate sanctions.

 

The Standards Sub-Committee then further resolved to exclude the press and public under the following terms: 

 

The Sub-Committee having heard all the evidence and deliberated to consider the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10.

10a

The Panel retired to consider the final recommendation

10b

The Sub-Committee's agreed recommendations

Minutes:

RESOLVED:

(Unanimously)

The Standards Sub-Committee resolved to:-

(a)  publish its findings in respect of Councillor Brandon’s conduct;

(b)  report its findings to Hatfield Town Council;

(c)         recommend to Hatfield Town Council that appropriate training be arranged for Councillor Lenny Brandon to include appropriate training as recommended by the Hertfordshire Association of Parish and Town Councils and Society of Local Council Clerks;

(d)         recommend to Hatfield Town Council to conduct a ‘root and branch’ review of its training for all councillors, to include performance management training, with a view to promoting high standards of conduct amongst all its councillors;

(e)         authorise the Monitoring Officer, as soon as is reasonably practicable, to issue a full written decision to Councillor Brandon, the Complainant and Hatfield Town Council together with the Sub-Committee’s reasons for its decision.