Maldon Council officer accused of trying to influence vote

The legal adviser at Maldon District Council has been accused of trying to influence elected members’ votes.

An intervention from the council’s monitoring officer, Simon Quelch, followed a heated council session which ultimately led to Maldon District Council’s annual meeting being postponed for eight weeks to allow councillors to resolve the results of the damning report surrounding their 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.

It was while Cllr Morris was given an opportunity to speak at a full council meeting on Thursday (August 6) that the online meeting descended into serious acrimony and eventually led to a motion to silence Cllr Morris for the rest of the meeting.

That motion failed, after several members of the Tory group voted against it.

However, following the meeting a note was issued to all members that said the monitoring officer had raised concerns “which are shared by the corporate leadership team”.

Members were asked to consider Mr Quelch’s advice in which he said: “I was witness to the disrespect shown to the vice chairman of the council during the remote council meeting yesterday.

“When a motion was proposed that the member “should not be heard any more” I was very concerned and surprised that the majority of members voted against the motion.

“Regardless of how emotive the subject is those levels of standards should be maintained and those members who voted against the motion were supporting or condoning such disrespect and were willing for it to continue, which it did.

“Instead of supporting the vice chairman in a difficult and stressful situation the majority of members chose to vote for the behaviour to continue.

“As monitoring officer I need to express how serious this is in relation to promoting respectful behaviour in council meetings.”

In response Cllr Morris said: “He has stepped well outside his remit, he has gone too far.

“He is there to offer his advice and while we welcome him giving advice the tone in which he has done that almost seems to be telling us how to vote. He is trying to influence our vote, which is bang out of order.”

A spokesperson for the council said: “It is the responsibility of the monitoring officer to ensure that the day to day business of the council is conducted in the right way, this particular email sent to our councillors on this matter was marked as confidential.

“I think it is important to be clear that any conduct concerns do not impact the services we deliver and our residents continue to be our main priority.”

The corporate leadership team has subsequently issued a clarification to members.

An email said: “The message sought to clarify that all members, when acting on council business and particularly with reference to council meetings should act at all times within the Members Code of Conduct.

“Corporate leadership team do not seek to engage or influence the political debate and discussions of members but did feel that the rules of engagement in constructive debate and need for respect for colleagues and staff of the council should be re-enforced at this time.

“We apologise if the message was not clear and trust you will accept this message as a clarification.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter