What’s taking so long?
Updated 11:01am Wednesday 2nd April 2014 in By Mike Benke, @Michael_Benke
FRUSTRATION is mounting at the length of time it is taking for the disciplinary case against the Mayor to be resolved.
Last year, it was alleged Coun Nick Martin (Con, Shaw) used a derogatory term to describe people with learning difficulties.
A formal complaint was made against the mayor in October, as well as a second complaint regarding his treatment of a Labour councillor, but the outcome has not yet been decided.
It has now emerged that the final outcome may not be decided until after the local elections in May. On April 11, the elections will officially be called, meaning a process known as Purdah comes into effect.
During this time, any functions performed by councillors have to stop until after the election so as to avoid accusations of influencing the outcome, including the Standards Committee.
A report is due at any point into the case against the Mayor, but this might recommend a full public hearing, something which would have to take place after the May 22 elections and possibly in June after his year in office has come to an end.
If this happens, say some, and the mayor is found guilty of making the remarks, he will have effectively got away with it.
Labour Group leader Coun Jim Grant said: “If it is the case that the Mayor’s hearing is pushed back beyond his time in office, I think it could do further reputational damage to the council and could be taken as a further insult by those people offended by the Mayor’s alleged conduct.
“It is universally accepted that the Mayor has brought the council into disrepute over his conduct. The original complaint regarding him allegedly using derogatory words about people with learning disabilities was made as long ago as last October and the Conservative Group gave a commitment that if the Mayor was found to have said those words then he should resign. Now it looks like the Mayor will be let off being sanctioned due to delays in the process.
“Of course the Mayor could still do the honourable thing and resign from his position, and that is still the position of the Labour Group.”
Last week, the Standards Committee began a process of bringing about change to its process. One complaint highlighted was the length of time it takes, often because of the difficulty it takes to interview the necessary parties.
The chair of the committee, Coun Dave Woods (Lib Dem, Eastcott) said: “This is very frustrating for me, both because it’s a quasi-judicial process that’s taken so long but also because I am not allowed to comment on the specifics on ongoing complaints.
“The current process is very time-consuming and relies on the people who need to be interviewed not going on extended holidays and so forth, for example.
“What we’ve been pushing for is a process that, while fair to everyone, is also much faster. Part of this is making sure people who need to be interviewed have to make themselves available within a particular timeframe.
“If I can achieve one thing as chair of standards, I would want it to be to ensure that all future complaints are quicker while still being fair.”
Coun Martin declined to comment when contacted by the Adver.
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