Standards committee suspends councillor

A TOWN councillor has been suspended for a month for breaching a code of conduct.

Complaints about Upping-ham town councillor Ron Simpson were investigated by Rutland County Council’s standards committee on Wednesday.

Coun Simpson was accused of breaching the code of conduct in the Local Government Act 2000 by being disrespectful twice to town clerk Susan Awcock and bringing the council into disrepute on two occasions.

He was accused of being aggressive towards Mrs Awcock during a meeting on November 15, 2006 when the council discussed why “inappropriate” leaflets were delivered with its newsletter.

Three residents complained about the leaflets.

Coun Karen Senogles, now mayor, made the complaint along with Coun Colin Forsyth.

Coun Simpson said he was defending Coun Peter Baker, who delivered the leaflets. He was concerned some councillors wanted to issue an apology and wanted to clarify who had called the meeting.

He said: “I didn’t think a public meeting was the right way to deal with the complaints.”

Mrs Awcock, who spoke as a witness, said Coun Simpson’s tone was “threatening”.

She said: “As far as I know there was nothing wrong with calling the meeting, so I was thinking ‘what have I done wrong here?’ I was getting quite upset.”

Coun Simpson said he was involved in “robust” debate.

He told the hearing: “My view is that I was being assertive, not aggressive.”

Wednesday’s hearing was told that on December 15, 2006, Coun Simpson went to the council offices to demand the clerk hand over a tape recording of the meeting.

He told the hearing he believed something defamatory had been said about him.

Contractor Peter Swann was in a meeting with Mrs Awcock when Coun Simpson walked in.

Giving evidence, Mr Swann said: “I would comment you were abrupt. Your tone was not a tone I would have used to a lady in that position. The impression I got was ‘I’m a very important person here and you’re not’.”

Coun Simpson said he knew his behaviour had upset the clerk only when he received a letter from the Standards Board for England.

He said: “I was not aware that the clerk had concerns about how I addressed her. I would have clearly have done something had I known.”

Standards committee chairman Peter Lawson upheld three of the complaints against Coun Simpson. But he said that on November 15, 2006 the council was not brought into disrepute because no members of the public or press had been present.

Coun Simpson was suspended for one month with immediate effect and up to a further two months if he does not write letters of apology to Mrs Awcock and Coun Senogles.

Mr Lawson said the standards committee could help the council to improve communications and funding could be available.

After the meeting Coun Forsyth and Coun Senogles issued a statement saying they were pleased with the result.

Coun Simpson said: “I’m disappointed that my efforts to defend a colleague were felt to fall outside the standard required by the code of conduct.

“I am however very pleased that the panel acknowledged my long-standing concerns about the internal operations of Uppingham Town Council.

“I regard this as a very positive outcome.”