I’m my party’s local spokesman on Open Government and Transparency, so I thought it only fair to publish what I said at tonight’s Governance Committee – which voted unanimously that I had not breached the Councillors’ Code of Conduct.
I may have mixed up a few sentences and I clarified a few other things (like why I put a full stop before a tweet to reach a wider audience), but you will be able to check them against the recording of the meeting in due course (something that I campaigned for before I was elected as a councillor). But before you read on, pause a moment and give thanks to people like Kristin who help those in difficulty – she is an incredible barrister, and a kind hearted and true one.
Firstly, I would like to say that I recognise the language I used in my tweet was offensive and I genuinely regret using it. I stand by the apology I tweeted as soon as the Monitoring Officer recommended I did so on 15th September. My original tweet was sent in a personal, not an official capacity, and it was intended as a criticism of the North East Parking Partnership as a whole, not of any individual officer.
I would also like to draw this committee’s attention to a second tweet I posted on 16th September at 8.48am, before I knew the matter was to be referred to this committee. Responding to a Twitter account holder who goes under the name Colchester Views, I tweeted:
.@Colchesterviews I’d love to say it was the car who got me into trouble, but it was all my own silly fault. Apologies to all concerned 🙂
My intention was to emphasise my apology of the day before and reach the widest possible audience. In this way, I hoped to draw a line under the matter.
However, I would like to emphasise I was unaware that the complaint had been made by my fellow Mile End ward councillor Dominic Graham until nine days after it had been made – and four days after my apology had been rejected and the complaint had been referred to this committee. I didn’t receive a copy of the original complaint until 10 days after it had been made.
Had I known that the complaint had been made by Cllr Graham, I would have reached out to him personally to try and resolve the matter in that way. In the event, I was unable to make the apology he expected because I did not know who had complained or the exact nature of their complaint.
As a result, I felt the situation was spiralling out of control, so I engaged Kristin Heimark, a barrister with Standards Board experience to give me independent advice.
As you can see from the submission she has written, the Council has a Code of Conduct but, because legal precedent shows I was acting in a personal capacity, I have not breached it. I would also refer committee members to the circulated Tribunal papers of Hull City Council and John Fareham, which deals with a comparable case – the Tribunal found he also was acting in a personal capacity and overturned the sanctions against him.
From what I have learned from the legal background of this case is that sanctions would be likely to be overturned if the matter progressed to Tribunal. I believe the legal advice I have received is of benefit to the council in this respect.
However, even though I was acting as a private individual when I tweeted what I did, I recognise that it was unnecessary. So I would once again like to put on the record a full apology and assure the committee that I will be more circumspect in future.
I didn’t mention this at the committee meeting because it was not relevant to the case, but this matter took a major toll on me – I suffer from this condition and only today have been awake since 2.30am. I am glad it is now over.