It’s easy to get out of the habit of writing daily blogs and I’m not really
in the mood for getting into anything too complicated right now. Most likely you will be feeling the
same, however I probably shouldn’t let the old year fade away without giving
the Maxine Fothergill saga another outing, she might
otherwise think she is forgotten
Probably you are still guessing what she did which resulted in being hauled before the Code of Conduct Committee and ‘punished’ by being sent on a training course. Some details need to be filled in before the full story goes public but unless all the informants change their tunes between now and next week you will get to know that they believe there may have been a criminal offence.
Normally when a councillor is on the receiving end of a complaint the public is told who made it, which councillor was allegedly at fault and what they were supposed to have done. Five years ago councillor Geraldine Lucia-Hennis was found guilty of being disrespectful to Bexley resident Alan Thomson and was also sent on a training course. A storm in a teacup but all the gory details went into the Bexley Times.
Earlier this month councillor Maxine Fothergill was afforded total secrecy. I suspect that the difference will be that Geraldine Lucia-Hennis had a minor disagreement and her colleague was engineering “financial gain” for herself and the police might take an interest if a thick veil was not rapidly drawn over the proceedings.
Bexley council has admitted that it used Paragraph 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 to block anything leaking into the public domain while neatly sidestepping the rules that apply to all Code of Conduct Committees. viz. Openness and honesty.
Here is a list of all the exemptions that could justify that information block.
As paragraph number 1 was used alone and Maxine Fothergill has been named one might assume that it must be the complainant who wished to remain anonymous but there is nothing in paragraphs 1 to 7 which allow the actual offence to be kept secret.
Bexley council is clearly up to no good.
It seems likely that an offence warranting total secrecy must have gone to the Monitoring Officer, Mr. Akin Alabi, for advice. I understand there were twelve months between the ‘offence’ and the Code of Conduct meeting.
For starters a Freedom of Information request has been submitted aimed at discovering if the complainant requested anonymity.
On Thursday 10th December 2015, Councillor Cheryl Bacon, Chairperson of the Members Code of Conduct Complaints Sub Committee excluded myself and other members of the public, from the meeting by virtue of Paragraph 1 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972.
Advice given by the Information Commissioner's Office, with reference to paragraph 1 - Information relating to an individual, states that in relation to disclosure of personal data relating to members of the public - it would be necessary in most cases to determine whether including the information in the report would be UNLAWFUL or UNFAIR to the person, taking into account all the circumstances involved.
Please provide evidence that the individual who made the complaint against Councillor Maxine Fothergill, did not expect that his or her information might be disclosed to others and that he or she expressly refused consent to the disclosure of the information.
Please also provide evidence that disclosure of personal data would have caused unnecessary or unjustified distress or damage to that person. Please also provide evidence that disclosure of the information would have been unlawful and evidence, that in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosing the information.
I may be wrong but I am coming to the conclusion that if there has been Misconduct in Public Office it will flow from any legal advice that led to Paragraph 1 being abused. Perhaps members of the Code of Conduct Committee were merely following instructions. That is what councillor and chairman Cheryl Bacon did on 19th June 2013. Her mistake then was not following bad advice but lying about it afterwards. councillor Bacon is also the chairman of the Code of Conduct Committee. Councillor Teresa O’Neill’s less than subtle two fingered salute directed at residents.
However it is going to be difficult to make excuses for the very minor sanction imposed if the offence is as described.
Michael Barnbrook addresses the Code of Conduct Committee. 10th December 2015.
It’s nice of Bexley council to provide the material to ensure that BiB is kept busy for another year.