Wednesday, 4 March 2009

TIME TO MEET THE STANDARDS?





As readers of the Isle's papers will remember, there were reports of what appeared to be extraordinary behaviour in a Margate shop last June on the part of The Leader of TDC Council and his Deputy Leader.
Readers will have to bear with me if this 'post' is rather long!
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A source rang me last evening and related an interesting tale. Yesterday he rang the TDC Standards Officer, a Miss Caffrey to make enquiries concerning when TDC Standards is going to deal with complaints arising from the extraordinary behaviour of ‘Mauwice’ and ‘Wodger’ in The Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Margate last June.
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Now, as a Thanet Council Tax payer, you might think it reasonable to expect Miss Caffrey to have had a clear simple answer as to how this matter has progressed as it is almost 9 months since this incident was reported in our local papers. Instead he got “Who are you? Why do you want to know? I will ask Miles Smith (interim Head of Legal Services at TDC)to ring you.”
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Suffice it to say that Miles did not ring. So what is all the secrecy about?
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Rumours in ‘Village Thanet’ for some months now, have been that this matter was to be dealt with soon and more specifically in early March. One date mentioned was Monday 16th March which is now less than 2 weeks away!
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It would seem that since May 2008 and after the Standards Board of England reported adversely on ‘Our Leader’s ‘F*****G T****R ‘ incident at The Winter Gardens, The Standard’s Board has stepped back with dealing with complaints except in exceptional circumstances and ‘Standards’ in Thanet are now the responsibility of TDC’s very own Standard’s Committee.
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This Thursday (5 Mar 2009), this Committee meets at 5.00pm in the Austen Room to discuss amongst other items ‘Agenda Item 8’ that is to do with ‘determining allegations that members have failed to comply with The Council’s Code of Conduct’ and is to be presented by Miles Smith, (Interim Head of Legal & Democratic Services ).
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It would seem that there are 4 stages to the process and different ‘sub-committees’ are involved. Let me try and explain the proposed process:
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Stage One. Assessment (Is there a case to answer?).

Stage Two. Review of Assessment (Appeal by complainant against Stage One decision to take no action).
Stage Three. Consideration of Investigation Report (Accepts investigation finding of no failure, or refers for full hearing).

Stage Four. Hearing (Where the investigation has found a failure to comply).


It would seem that Miles Smith is proposing that each ‘Stage’ is dealt with as follows:

Stage One. Standards Referral & Hearings Sub-Committee
Stage Two. Standards Appeals Sub-Committee
(Stage One and Two must be delegated to sub-committees as different members must
deal with assessment and review)
Stage Three. Full Standards Committee
Stage Four. Standards Referral & Hearings Sub-Committee
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Now, if you are not as confused as I am , it would seem that the Committee structures as currently shown, appear to be the same people!
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Here are the members of The Standards Committee and the Standards Referral & Hearings Sub Committee:

Mrs Jennifer Sterndale (Chairman)
Mr Robin Hills (Vice-Chairman)
Mrs Linda Frampton
Mr Brian Hinchley
Councillor Simon Day
Councillor Mrs Elizabeth Green
Councillor Thomas King
Councillor Richard R Nicholson
Councillor Michael J Roberts
Councillor Mike Taylor
Councillor Mrs Zita P Wiltshire
Parish Councillor Carol Ann Buchanan
Parish Councillor Dennis Neville
Parish Councillor Roy Wade
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I am sorry but they seem to be the same people despite this from Agenda Item 8:
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“The use of a new sub-committee with new members at Stage Four allows members to come to the Hearing stage with wholly fresh minds and overcomes the difficulty, that it could be said to be unfair, that members may have known of the allegations and investigation for some months, but first hear the case for the subject member only very late in the day. This would overcome some concerns that have been expressed that the use of members who have already had some involvement at Stage Four may be open to challenge. “.
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I am now rather confused.
Do I really believe that TDC is capable of handling a Standard’s Complaint effectively ? What stage are TDC at with the complaint about the behaviour of The Leader of TDC and his Deputy Leader in June 2008? Is it Stage 1, 2, 3 or 4? Do we not have a right to know as Council Tax-Payers and the Electorate?
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I leave you with this ‘ New Speak’ gem’ from Agenda Item 8 prepared by Mr Smith:
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“The review and development of The Council’s arrangements will increase accessibility and PUBLIC CONFIDENCE (my capitals).”
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Really?

13 comments:

Martin said...

Now I am confused. Surely if members of this committee are cronies of our beloved leader and his deputy how can they view circumstances impartially? The whole process seems idiotic.

ascu75 aka Don said...

if I read that right judge jury and exicutioner all in one hand commitee I nwould want to be tried by the same crowd it is not right in my mind but then maybe the sub commitee is the exicutioner ?

Cllr. Mike Harrison said...

Miss Caffery is NOT the councils Standards Officer she is a secretary in the offices.
I am not sure who is the Standards Officer as it keeps changing, I am assuming that when the Interim Head of Legal Services leaves his successor will take the Title.
I have long thought that complaints about Members should be dealt with by a neighbouring Authority to ensure that there is no leaning on Members of Standards Committee to come to the 'right decision'.
Not that I am suggesting that this may happen in this case!!!

Anonymous said...

Looking at that list it seems an imbalance in favour of the Tories so I have to ask whether any Tory councillor on that panel would find against a fellow Tory councillor especially their Leader and Deputy Leader.

Anonymous said...

Let's be absolutely honest here. Few Councillors have any standards. If they did they'd be making more of a fuss about this in the Council chamber. What's more worrying is that it appears the Council's paid officials don't have any standards either. It doesn't take nine months to investigate or to deal with an incident like this. It should have been sorted out within 24 hours. The tortuous prolonged process they have invented is just designed to allow them to manipulate the outcome. However, the more serious charge is that it is costing us (the taxpayer) a load of money. High time all taxpayers rose up in protest against the sheer wastefulness of TDC.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Bertie

You are missing an element here - and that is a letter that was sent out regarding "the affair in the wool shop"

Perhaps this letter was also sent to the press as well?

Shall we move on to its contents, well all very apologetic stuff of course? One should be inquiring if this letter was enough?

Other equally interesting matters will shortly hitting the light of day from the bowels of TDC but they are of a vexatious nature and much too delicate at this stage to be put vociferously through the Thanet blogging system...but be assured they are of a questionable nature?

Walter

Bertie Biggles said...

My apologies for being 'slow' in putting comments up this evening.

The potential weakness of an internal Council Standards system seems to be shared by many! I do believe we have to rely on the integrity of The Members of The Standards Committee to carry out their difficult role impartially.

Cllr Harrison's thoughts that neighbouring Councils should deal with each others 'dirty washing' does make sense.

I am sorry if Miss Caffery is not the Standards Officer but this extract from TDC's own website (see Complaints) is thus confusing:

Contact Us

Louise Caffery
Standards Officer
Tel: 01843 577207
Louise.Caffery
@thanet.gov.uk

'Walter' you seem to be making reference to a letter or letters, to be more accurate, that I had heard some time ago had not only been sent to an injured party but that had also been widely disseminated around TDC members by the authors. I hope a reader might oblige by sharing the contents with us; a Tesco Bag left on Acol Hill seems to be as good a way as any in sharing letters!

Matt B said...

I wonder if the whole running of the council has not descended into such self referential surrealism (as say a dilbert strip) that members are totally numbed by their own office speak and have failed to realise that they are game playing rather than actually doing anything of value?

I know it is easy to become so inward looking within a group that you fail to notice that the groups internally consistent behaviour is at odds with reality but surely councillors should have noticed by now? No?

Anonymous said...

This is not democracy - this is a stitch up. If a member of the public wished to take a councillor to the standards board for inappropriate behaviour how on earth could they expect any form of justice if this is an example of the process. This effectively condones and gives licence for our elected representatives to do and behave exactly as they want without fear of consequences. Shouldn't the political complexion of this board be an equal split?

Anonymous said...

I was a witness to this tawdry episode in Edinburgh Woollen Mill and I have to say this is taking rather a long time to come to a decision. Those involved knew exactly what they were doing.

Anonymous said...

Surprise surprise, if the Tories wanted to take a labour Cllr to standards it would be thrown out, point in question, the bullying Labour Cllr who abused his position as Mayor. The Labour mouthpiece went quiet then didn't it?

I agree that outside authorities should be looking at this, then we could expect impartiality. I can't help but think about the boy who called wolf...maybe one day, something really unacceptable will happen to a member of the Labour group, but no one will take notice, as the impact will have been diluted by all the constant whinning about if he/she said this or that

Lets remember, Iris is not the shy retiring rose that she has tried to make herself out to be, this woman should stand up and be proud that she has got where she has, but she makes a mockery of it by doing the little woman can't cope burst into tears bit when the going gets tough.

I have seen her in full flight in the council chamber, not someone I would want to argue with, or argue over my train ticket with, so just who is she trying to kid?

Anonymous said...

Absolute power corrupts absolutely - this tory administration has absolute power therefore ....... I leave the rest of the argument for you to complete.

Anonymous said...

The irish woman is the elephant in the room