Friday, 13 March 2009

A SAD TALE : OF CONDUCT UNBECOMING? POLITICISED COUNCIL OFFICERS ? THE MISSING WITNESS?

I read last night, courtesy of Cllr Mark Nottingham's Blog, almost 300 pages of 'evidence' and letters collected by Standards into the incident in The Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Margate last June. (See earlier 'posts' for general background.) .
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The full details can be accessed from TDC at:
http://tdc-mg-dmz.thanet.gov.uk/Published/C00000137/M00001171/$$ADocPackPublic.pdf
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I would urge ALL Conservative Councillors, Roger Gale MP and PPC Laura Sandys to read very carefully what has been written or said by all those involved on that June morning and make up their own minds as to the suitability of Cllr Ezekiel and Cllr Latchford continuing to lead the Conservative Group at TDC.
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I have come to my own conclusions and whatever happens on Monday in The Council Chamber will not remove the fact that TDC has been brought into disrepute and its standing in the eyes of the public damaged.
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I will only quote any extracts, from what I have read, to illustrate points and to put them in context, you will need to read the whole report.

Statements seem to have been taken from only 5 people, one of whom (Council Officer, Mr Bunnet) was not even present in the Woollen Mill. They were Cllr Johnston, Cllr Ezekiel, Cllr Latchford and two local press reporters, Thom Morris and Nick Evans. You might well wonder, as I did, why no Statement has been made by a 'key' witness to the whole business, Miss Cheryl Hussey, manager of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill. She, like the press members could have given a clear account of what she saw and heard. Why was no statement taken or did she decline to make one?
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What was interesting to read was that Cllr Ezekiel stated he invited Cheryl Hussey for lunch that very same day; presumably within an hour or so of the incident. I could not find anywhere in the paperwork that Cheryl Hussey had been invited to make a statement or had declined to; she is the 'missing witness'.
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One must assume that our press work to a code of conduct and are professionally trained to report what they see and hear. I find the 'evidence' from Thom Morris and Nick Evans particularly interesting and would assume it to be as accurate an account from 'neutral' parties as one is likely to get. Let me quote some extracts:

"Their general behaviour was ungentlemanly and unpleasant".
"Councillor Latchford leapt like a salmon ..I wish I had taken a picture."
"Councillor Latchford said four times, 'Sandy, let's go'.
"To see the Council Leader just being ridiculous and the Deputy Leader leaping at another Councillor; God knows what it has done for their reputation!"
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What I find interesting is that both reporters confirm that within a short time of the incident, they received phone calls from Cllr Ezekiel as did their superiors or colleagues. Why was this done and what was said?
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You will need to read a written submission by Cllr Ezekiel very carefully to spot what appears to be a suggestion that the two press reporters were not acting professionally. Here is an extract:

"Both journalists have reasons to feel personally aggrieved with myself as the Leader of TDC. With regard to Thom Morris , I have made robust complaints about untrue statements he made, appearing in the Gazzette. Nick Evans has twice been turned down for an appointment at TDC. I would refer at this stage to the e-mail I presented to you in an earlier statement, from Michaels Childs(sic), warning me about Nick Evans motives."
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I was staggered at the implication contained in these words and find it extraordinary when much criticism about our local press has been aired on blogs about the very pro-TDC line taken in all our papers with little critical comment about TDC!
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I read John Bunnet's statement with surprise. As he was not at the scene, how could his statement be considered of any value or pertinent to consideration by The Standard's Committtee? Cllr Johnston went to see him shortly after the incident in his capacity as Acting Chief Executive of TDC. Mr Bunnet's statement raises serious questions about the role of Officers in TDC. If you read it, you will note the many references to Cllr Johnston being 'emotionally upset' not on just this occasion and Mr Bunnet repeats this phrase over and over again. He then promptly contradicts himself by stating 'She is a strong and experienced politician'. What seriously should concern us all and all TDC Councillors, is Mr Bunnet's words when describing 'his opinion' of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill incident:
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" It feels like one of a series of attempts by the opposition to weaken the Leader."

Now forgive me if I am a tad naive, but how does The Leader and Deputy Leader bursting in on a petition hand-over uninvited by Cllr Johnston or anyone present, constitute 'an attempt to undermine the Leader' and Mr Bunnet reveals an extraordinary stance as (at the time) he was initially acting as Acting Chief Executive who would have to advise ALL involved, neutrally and dispassionately as an Officer of Thanet District Council, acting for the WHOLE Council.
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I will end my take on this 'scandalous' incident for TDC as a whole and leave you with the words of a former 'Officer and Gentleman' and 'leaper' in explaining 'whose fault it was':

" The whole thing is the responsibility of Cllr Johnston".

Is that really the case Lt Col (Retd) R Latchford OBE, Deputy Leader of TDC?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

We have here a local government employee, John Bunnett, commenting on the behaviour of his employer. As one who worked in local government myself, I find this totally unacceptable. Do civil servants comment on the behaviour of Government Ministers? Of course not. Local government employees, chief executive or not, serve whoever is their employer, regardless of their own political views. I know civil servants who have never expressed an opinion politically because they say, my job is to serve regardless of my own views. A friend who is now retired, said she'd never given any thought to politics in case it skewed her approach to her professional approach. John Bunnett should have stuck to facts and not given an opinion. Assuming he wasn't present during the episode he cannot possibly know what happened and should have kept quiet.

This whole episode casts local politics in an unflattering light and makes me think that it's hardly surprising the electorate stays home rather than go out on election day to cast their vote.

The fact that the Leader of the Council took the main witness, apart from Cllr. Johnston and the press, to lunch is disgraceful. What was the topic over the prawn cocktails? No prizes for guessing that one.

Cllr. Ezekiel passing judgement in such a devastating way over the local press is appalling and indicates the paranoia that seems to surround this current administration.

Roll on 2011 when we can say 'goodbye' to this lot at TDC and let in some upright councillors to run Thanet.

Anonymous said...

one would asume sandy took the lady to lunch to receive the stores cctv footage and dispose of it

Anonymous said...

One rumour circulating is that a senior officer has the frequent pint with another senior member of the cabinet. That shouldnt be right - executive and elected member passing information? how can he then be even handed with councillors of a different persuasion to the cabinet?
Give you more to chew over Bertie.

Bertie Biggles said...

18:46, an interesting supposition but of course un-substantiated.Was there any co-operation between Shop and Standards I wonder?

19:05. I see no harm in social friendships in such a situation, providing they do not impinge on professional conduct 'at work'. We must not be as paranoid as others!

Anonymous said...

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing"

Something has to be done.

Anonymous said...

or 'if this is all you have to worry about, then you are in a better place than those poor kids on TV last night'

Anonymous said...

And as usual, the supposed 'good men' of the Tory party will again, do nothing!

Bertie Biggles said...

14.30, you are absolutely right, but that doesn't stop many people in Thanet still wanting their governance to be better. We are fortunate to be able to examine the standards of our 'Leaders' whilst so many in other parts of the world live in fear and grinding poverty; often because of their 'Leaders' and can do nothing about it.

Hugin said...

I have just read the relevant documents relating to this matter. The letters from Cllrs Ezekiel and Latchford, together with their interview statements are particularly worrying. Claims are made that the complaint by Cllr Johnston is politically motivated (page 132 & others) and, in Ezekiel's case that anti-Semitic comments are being used to attack him (page 137).

The report calls to mind the ignorant, ill mannered, "chavs" that can be seen screaming abuse at each other in our streets, and the two "gentlemen" involved seem to think that someone is out to get them.

Bertie Biggles said...

Hugin, I hope that many of our Conservative Councillors have also gone to the pains that you have in their reading.

I can only assume that Cllr Ezekiel was referring to the events prior to The Winter gardens incident in 2007. Comments made by the then Mayor in Dec 2006 and in Jan 2007 were only taken to The Standards Board of England following the reporting of Cllr Ezekiel for his conduct in April 2007 at The Winter Gardens. The findings concerning the Mayors comments and Cllr Ezekiel's conduct were reported last year. Why Cllr Ezekiel thinks they should be relevant in a 'witness' statement concerning Cllr Johnston's treatment and resulting complaint in 2008, quite escapes me.

Anonymous said...

The paranoia that abounds the leader is incredible - that because someone complains about his unreasonable behaviour it is "politically motivated" and that the press are "biased"
wake up those in his party - ditch him and his deputy and some of the cabinet ASAP. Not sure if you have the b***S that is the problem all a bunch of feckless sheep.

Anonymous said...

Other thing that springs to mind is that Sandy always thinks he can "buy someone off" taking the manageress out for lunch indeed - is that fact or supposition Bertie?

Bertie Biggles said...

22.55, when you say 'buy them off' I assume you do not mean literally but figuratively in terms of persuade them.

Look at page 258 of the document:

What do you understand from this from Cllr Ezekiel? I quote:

"It is worth remembering that after the incident, I telephoned Cheryl Hussey manager of Edinburgh Wool Mills and invited her to lunch."

Anonymous said...

the latest news is they are too cowardly to attend and are keeping away wonder which of their lackies will come and listen. The silence from fellow conservatives has been memorable!

Bertie Biggles said...

I hesitate to use the word 'cowardly', 15.06 but not to be there for Stage 4 of the 'proceedings' would seem odd. I think we will just have to wait and see.

Many Conservatives in Thanet, including myself, were unhappy with The Winter Gardens 'incident' and aghast at the events in The Edinburgh Woollen Mill. If an immediate and unreserved apology to Cllr Johnston and all those present, had followed in June 2008, I think that this matter would have faded into obscurity. Poor public behaviour whilst in Public Office used to be followed by resignation; I am saddened that Cllr Ezekiel and his Deputy (who really should know better) copied the pattern set by our Labour Government by failing to say 'sorry' and then not doing the 'decent' thing.

The silence from many decent Conservative and Labour Councillors on this matter is perhaps indicative of the shame felt collectively by a majority in TDC, at their 'Leader's' conduct. It's bad enough being in the bottom 10% of Councils, having regular mentions in 'Rotten Boroughs' without having at your head men who cannot behave properly in public.

Disillusioned Conservative voter said...

When I read in the Gazette that Latchford thinks his Leader is 'a polite man' I laughed out loud. This is the Leader who used the two words f****** t***** at a function, language that no 'polite man' would use in mixed company.

There are many who can give evidence that Cllr. Ezekiel is not exactly a 'polite man'. I just wish the local Tory party had the guts to stand up and say 'enough is enough'. I always thought the Conservative Party was the home of Britain's elite. In Thanet, apparently not.

Anonymous said...

You put it all very succintly Bertie!

Anonymous said...

Disillusioned Conservative vote - your heartfelt comments speak for many of us. Where is integrity in local conservative politics?