Maldon Council annual meeting delayed to allow probe into damning report on conduct

Maldon District Council’s annual meeting has been postponed for eight weeks to allow councillors to resolve the results of a damning report surrounding the leader’s ‘throat-slit’ gesture and ‘hello sailor’ comment.

The independent report, which cost more than £50,000 to compile and was published on Thursday (August 6), accuses councillors sitting on the standards board of the council of bringing it into disrepute by predetermining council leader Adrian Fluker had “not failed to comply with the Members Code of Conduct” and that “no further action needs to be taken”.

The issues relating to a standards committee investigation were sparked by complaints from independent councillors Chrisy Morris, Wendy Stamp and Carlie Mayes after a meeting on September 12 last year against Cllr Fluker for making a ‘throat-slit’ gesture and saying “hello sailor” to a fellow councillor.

The first complaint alleged that Cllr Fluker carried out a “throat-cut” gesture aimed at Cllrs Richard Siddall and Jane Fleming, who had just abstained in a vote, and which could be seen as bullying and disrespectful behaviour.

The second complaint, raised by Cllr Morris, alleged that Cllr Fluker had breached the council’s members code by directing a homophobic comment towards Cllr Siddall when he said “hello sailor” to him.

Councillor Fluker later stated that he meant the gesticulation as a signal to ‘stop and move on’.

Cllr Fluker stated he made the “hello sailor” comment without being aware of the connotations it had or that it would cause offence, he contacted Cllr Siddall the morning after the meeting and apologised for any offence that may have been taken from his comment.

The apology was not accepted by Cllr Siddall.

Following complaints surrounding the conduct of the standards meeting into Cllr Fluker’s behaviour on January 30, on February 11, Simon Quelch, monitoring officer at Maldon District Council, appointed Melvin Kenyon to investigate complaints about the conduct of Councillors Bob Boyce, Bryan Harker and Sue White and Southminster Parish Councillor, John Anderson.

He concluded there was predetermination from Councillors Sue White and Bryan Harker and “that they conducted themselves in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing their office or the authority into disrepute”.

He further concluded that Cllr Boyce, as chairman, did not demonstrate predetermination in the Joint Standards Committee on January 30, but did conduct himself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing his office or the authority into disrepute.

Parish councillor John Anderson was not covered by a code of conduct when attending the Joint Standards Committee meeting so the complaint against him was not upheld.

The acting monitoring officer – an employee of Castle Point District Council – chose to informally resolve the matter and has been supported by Maldon’s own monitoring officer Simon Quelch.

But this route has been rejected by councillors.

Former leader, Cllr Mark Durham said: “Having just seen the report I am very shocked at the contents of that report, this report clearly shows members have brought themselves and the authority into disrepute.

“This may well be the basis of an additional complaint. Clearly there are some outstanding matters regarding one or more members.

“Although I believe a statutory annual would be important to hold I fail to see how we can push a statutory annual meeting of this authority while there are still outstanding matters revolving around one or more members.

“The other point is that although Mr Quelch is saying the particular complaint which was regarding the conduct at the joint standards meeting is concluded and which I reluctantly accept, there may well be action by the political party in relation to what the report now says.”

Independent councillor Nick Skeens said: “Whatever the monitoring officer has said this matter is not closed.

“I am concerned here about the appearance of impropriety.

“I do not agree with the motoring officer’s assessment and I am free to do so. We are all free to do so.

“This surprising decision taking the matter out of the hands of the council may well appear fishy to the public and that is an appearance of impropriety.

“The speed of closure of this matter is a cause of suspicion, especially as the complainants were not consulted and Mr Quelch promised this would be discussed. No requirement does not mean it cannot not be done, is the phrase he used.

“It is within our gift to look at this. We did not make the decision. We should.

“It feels like manipulation. This is not a good look for the council. The joint standards committee must revisit this.

“We need time to make that happen. We need to be able to look at the report ourselves and make our own judgement.

“The external investigation is welcome, but we need to decide on this.”

The annual council meeting was delayed by eight weeks after an overwhelming majority voted for a delay.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter