Opposition councillor 'resents' claims of tit-for-tat complaints

Adrian Williams

Adrian Williams

adrianw@baylismedia.co.uk
Opposition councillor 'resents' claims of tit-for-tat complaints

Monitoring officer Emma Duncan (left) speaking to Cllr John Baldwin (right) at a virtual panel meeting

An opposition councillor has said he ‘resents’ the implication that councillors are using the council’s code of conduct complaints process to settle personal scores.

At a meeting of a member standards panel on Wednesday (June 9), the Borough’s monitoring officer Emma Duncan reviewed the year’s complaints levelled against councillors.

In her report she highlighted problems with testy social media exchanges and use of the Code of Conduct complaints process as a ‘tit for tat’ attack and counterattack between councillors.

“This year we have had three times as many complaints as most other local authorities,” said Ms Duncan. “The authority doesn’t have the resources to investigate lots of complaints.

“If we had lots of serious complaints we would have to – but most of them have been relatively minor. Personal issues, quite often, motivated by antipathy from both sides.”

However, Cllr John Baldwin (Lib Dem, Belmont) said he ‘didn’t accept’ that members were using the code of conduct complaints process in a tit-for-tat manner.

“I’m probably one of the most complained-about members of the council that’s been sitting since 2019 and I have made one complaint,” he said.

“I personally resent the implication that all members use the Code of Conduct for political point-scoring. It’s not the case.”

He asked Ms Duncan to draw a distinction between back-and-forth on social media and use of the Code of Conduct complaints process.

Ms Duncan stressed that officers have definitely seen a connection between these two processes.

“We can see the relationship between two members deteriorating [online] and we know that one will make a complaint – and shortly after we will receive another,” she said.

“In these circumstances, it does feel like I’m less in public service and more like I’m in the playground.”

On the flip side, Ms Duncan said that in the past three months there have been no complaints from councillors against colleagues, a sign that they are ‘getting to grips’ with how to use social media to interact with each other appropriately.

Leader of the council Andrew Johnson said it was good to see the number of complaints dropping.

“We have worked hard as group leaders to start to shift the dialogue,” he said.

An area that needs ‘some work’, he added, was in how elected members were interacting with political activists who are ‘badgering’ them on social media.

Cllr Lynne Jones, leader of the local independents, suggested that some of the service complaints launched by members of the public are ‘not actually complaints about a service area’.

“Some residents only complain because they haven’t had a response and are waiting so long. They feel the only way to achieve that is by making a complaint,” she said.

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