The right place at the right time
|Eddie legge wrote: |
|Ian Jones nothing said about why the police were called to remove David Rocke from the Abertillery and Llanhilleth council chamber, It hasn't surprised me Ian when you are in contact again tell him Eddie Legge has made comment about the disturbing incident on Facebook and wants Rocke to reply |
" 160, Alma St.,
Public Services Ombudsman Blaenau Gwent
24, Cathedral Rd NP13 1QD
CF11 9LJ 11th April 2015
Complaint(s) Against Abertillery & Llanhilleth Community Councillors
I wish to complain about the behaviour and conduct of a number of Members of the above council.
A meeting of its Finance Committee was scheduled for Wednesday 8th April 2015 and I and another member of the public, Mr Graham White, went to the council offices in Mitre St. Abertillery at 18:00 in order to view the meeting.
The building was open and we made our way to the council chamber. It was empty but there were voices coming from an adjoining room (which I understand to be the Chair’s Office) so we sat quietly, assuming that the meeting would start shortly.
A few minutes later Cllr Bernard Wall came into the chamber and went directly into the Chair’s office, joining the others who were already there and shortly after Cllr John Tiley came out of that office and asked us to leave the chamber. I stated that we were there to view the scheduled meeting of the Finance Committee and he informed us that the time of that meeting was 19:00. We decided to wait rather than leave and come back some 45 minutes later.
Cllr Tiley became a little miffed and told us that we shouldn’t be in the chamber because it wasn’t time for the meeting. I pointed out that there is no set time for opening doors or allowing the public in to view a meeting, and that the offices were open, so I didn’t see a problem.
He was then joined by Cllrs Robert Phillips and Helen Cunningham. At this point Cllr Ivor Beynon came into the chamber via the front door and said “I’m sorry I’m late” and made his way into the Chair’s office.
I asked Cllrs Tiley, Phillips and Cunningham why Cllr Beynon had apologised for being late and queried whether there was in fact a meeting being held in the Chair’s office. There was no direct reply but I asserted that it was clear that Cllr Beynon believed he had to apologise for being late and that could only be because something had been arranged and he had not turned up for the start of it.
Cllr Phillips responded by saying he had suggested some form of get-together prior to the Finance Meeting and then went back into the Chair’s office. Mr White and I were advised by Cllr Tiley that if we did not leave the police would be called. We declined.
The councillors went back into the Chair’s office, the talking continued and we sat in the Chamber. Approximately 15 minutes later two PC’s entered from the Chair’s office and said that they had been requested to ask us to leave. I pointed out the provisions of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) and the Local Govt Acts, including that there was no stipulation as to the earliest time members of the public could be admitted to the place of a meeting. We had simply turned up an hour early, not realising that the meeting would be an hour later than the times meetings have been held recently, and it was pointless us leaving and returning what was then 25 minutes later.
The constables however insisted that we leave, although one did go back to the Chair’s office and enquire what time we would be allowed in. A compromise was suggested (by councillors) and we were allowed to sit in the reception area bounded by the chamber on one side, the Chair’s office on another and the Clerk’s office on a third.
We did so, and remarkably were then able to hear quite clearly the conversations and discussions that were taking place.
The content and implications of your recent report (on Case No. 201402174) were discussed (councillors were adamant in their opinion that there had been no problems for 25 years and that the council’s recruitment procedures hadn’t come in for criticism in that time. One councillor stated that the former Clerk did everything by the book and knew what he was talking about). A number expressed dissatisfaction that the council had been criticised and that new procedures had to be brought in.
There was also a reference to ‘top people’ and a judge, in the context of decisions being made by them and that the council would have to abide by any such decisions if and when they were made.
I was also referred to, councillors seeking to categorise me as a vexatious complainant.
I have done some research and it appears that Cllr Phillips, acting in the capacity of ‘Leader’ (which is not a constitutional role of the community council) called an “informal meeting of All (sic) councillors”.
I have enclosed a copy of the text of that email, and the recipients etc.
At this point in this letter I need to relate events that occurred at the meeting of Full Council held on Weds 25th March 2015. The Agenda contained a item related to your report as mentioned above and also an item “to discuss the impact and actions arising from the training that Members attended with One
Voice Wales on 18 March 2015.”, prior to which the Press and Public were to be excluded.
(I have enclosed a copy of the agenda).
I and Mr White were present at that meeting and when the time came to exclude the public etc. (Item 15) the Chair, Cllr Glyn Smith, simply asked us to leave. We declined and I advised him that under the LGA Members had to resolve to exclude the public. He then proposed that the press and public be excluded and this was carried with I believe one abstention. I then pointed out that the decision was ultra vires because the exempt and/or confidential item was not detailed as prescribed by the LGA, particularly in relation to Schedule 12A – you will note that it simply says ‘Schedule 12A’ and not the relevant Paragraph of it.
This was concurred with by Mr Peter Egan, Deputy Chief Executive of One Voice Wales, who was at the meeting and provided the Chair with advice in the absence of the Clerk. The Chair ended the meeting abruptly and there was considerable consternation among Members, most notably from Cllr Tiley who pointed to me and said “he has just made this council and us look stupid”.
I believe that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the ‘informal meeting’ convened by Cllr Phillips on Weds 8th April was in order to transact the business that was withdrawn at the meeting of 25th March and as such is a blatant and deplorable breach of the LGA 1972. Councillors have transacted council business outside of a properly convened and serviced meeting and out of public view, contrary to the stipulations of the Acts referred to above.
The discussing and debating of matters involving individuals within earshot of the public is similarly appalling, as is the attempt to categorise concerned members of the public as ‘vexatious’ and in effect emasculate them, allowing the council to be able to refuse to deal with requests and complaints from those individuals.
I am of the belief that the councillors present at this ‘informal’ meeting also acted vexatiously and vindictively by deciding to call the police to have us removed in the light of their failure to properly and appropriately exclude us on 25th March ie as some peculiar show of strength. I believe that a very dangerous precedent has been set in that they are of the opinion that calling the police will result in the removal of the public from meetings regardless of the legality of doing so.
I think however that the gravest aspect of this event is that those councillors embroiled police officers in an undemocratic and unlawful act ie. the removal of members of the public who were waiting to attend a properly convened meeting of a committee of the council, as is their right.
This actually ended up as exclusion from the meeting because myself and Mr White went outside the building for a few minutes and could not get back in, the doors being locked.
I therefore wish to complain about the behaviour and conduct of the following Community Councillors:
B. Baldwin, W. Bard, I. Beynon, H. Cunningham, R. Phillips, J. Price, N. Price, G. Smith,
C. Tidey, J. Tiley & B. Wall.
I believe that in this instance they have breached the principles of:
It is not acting solely in the public interest to convene and/or take part in clandestine meetings that discuss council business nor is it in the public interest to effect the exclusion of the public from properly convened meetings;
• A duty to uphold the law.
Apart from the improper (attempted) exclusion of members of the public (which will be the subject of a later complaint) these councillors solicited the police force to commit an act of removal from the council chamber and eventual exclusion from a meeting of the Finance Committee, in contravention of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 and the Local Government Act 1972.
They abused the law.
• Objectivity in decision-making.
It is clear that an unconstitutional meeting such as this was will result in pre-determination. A failure to keep minutes or notes will render it impossible to know what was discussed and therefore whether debate and discussion on any future matter coming before council or its committees will have been compromised. This was not a meeting of a political group.
I am particularly concerned that your report as mentioned above – and the council’s response and reactions to it – will either not have been debated by full council or that any such debate will have been pre-determined.
The covert convening of meetings and attendance thereof clearly breaches this principle.
Councillors cannot be held accountable if members of the public are prevented from seeing Members in action and viewing how they contribute and vote in debates etc., whether that is because of meetings held in secret or public meetings from which the press and public are unlawfully excluded.
A breach of these principles is of course not necessarily a breach of the Code of Conduct itself, however in this case I belief that the breaches above have led to the following contraventions of the Code:
• The Code of Conduct applies when Members act in the capacity of Councillor.
Cllr Phillips’ email clearly shows that people were being ‘invited’ to that meeting by virtue of being councillors, and hence would be acting in that capacity.
This is further evidenced by the fact that council business, inter alia your recent report, was discussed.
The councillors named also acted in that capacity when the police were called since they informed the police officers that they had the rights of occupancy and were in effect the ‘owners’ of the property and within their rights to ask for us to be removed.
(One of the police officers actually used the expression “this is their building”).
• The councillors named brought both their office and the community council into disrepute by abusing their position to prevent scrutiny of their actions a) by arranging and/or being party to an unconstitutional and unlawful meeting; and b) by effecting the exclusion of members of the public from a properly convened later meeting, by virtue of the doors to the building where that meeting was being held being locked.
I refer to my comments above where they had told the police that it was ‘the councillors’ building’ and hence had responsibility for it.
• Paragraph 8 of the Code relates to objectivity, pre-disposition and pre-determination.
It is clear that the attendees at the meeting of 8th April 2015 were deciding upon actions and not simply upon the process for doing so. The attendees of this meeting could not approach any debate on these matters in council with an open mind. The majority of the council was present and it is highly likely that, should they declare an interest and remove themselves from the debate and any vote thereon, the meeting would be inquorate, rendering the council unable to respond and react.
• Paragraph 8 also refers to advice given.
In this case advice from the Proper Officer was not sought. In a situation of this nature the Clerk’s advice – or someone suitably qualified in their absence – should have been sought. It was clearly an out-of-the-ordinary ‘invitation’ from Cllr Phillps and councillors should have sought advice or at the very least enquired of him if he had done so, and what the advice he received was.
• In the above context I believe that Cllr Phillips has additionally breached Para 7(a) in that he abused his position in order to imply that he had the authority to call a meeting outside of the legal framework provided by the LGA.
You will note that he refers to himself as ‘Leader’. This is not a constitutional position of the community council and indeed if it were he would not have powers to convene such a meeting, even if it were not unlawful. He cannot be under any misapprehension – even if he is accepted by Members as ‘Leader’ in name - that he has the power to summon Members to a meeting, an action which would imply that meeting was proper and appropriate. He has overstretched himself massively and has committed a grave abuse of power.
I therefore submit that the named members of Abertillery & Llanhilleth Community Council have acted against the public interest, in contravention of relevant legislation, have abused their position by acting inappropriately against members of the public ie. myself and Mr Graham White and are therefore in direct breach of the Councillor’s Code of Conduct and I ask that you investigate this matter.
Note - this is a direct copy and paste, and the page width of the letter is greater than the width of the post, hence the address bits are mixed up.
The rest isn't though.
Ps I will of course ensure that the Ombudsman's adjucation is well publicised.