Standards Hearing Panel (5)
The Standards Hearing Panel
Mr. Ken Harrison (Chair)
Mrs Stella Elliott (Vice-Chair)
Cllr L Rowlands
Cllr B Davies
Cllr P Williams
Wirral Council Officers
Surjit Tour, (Head of Legal and Member Services) representing Monitoring Officer (Bill Norman)
Shirley Hudspeth, Panel Clerk (Democratic Services Manager)
Rosemary Lyon, Investigating Officer
Subject of complaint
Denis Knowles, person complained about
John Brace (press)
The Chair asked for any declarations of interest. Cllr Les Rowlands declared an interest as he was a member of the Conservative Party and so was the person complained about. He asked for advice about if it was a prejudicial interest.
Surjit Tour said that Cllr Les Rowlands was there representing his political group.
The Chair agreed that the meeting was quorate. He said they would decide not to exclude the public from proceedings. He asked for a summary of the report.
Rosemary Lyons said she had been asked by the Monitoring Officer (Bill Norman) on a self-referred complaint which related to a comment on the Facebook site. She said Members had to comply with the Code of Conduct, if they claimed to act as a representative of the Authority or certain other types of business. She referred to Standards Board for England guidance, a copy of which was provided as appendix 2 to the report. The guidance was on blogging and social networking.
She realised that the Member meant no gratuitous offense by the comment and the timing of the comment was on the 27th March 2010. She had interviewed Cllr Knowles. She said that Cllr Knowles had put details of his councillor’s surgeries on his Facebook site. She said he had been completely honest and helpful. In conclusion she said it was in reference to leaflets delivered in Seacombe ward and could amount to a personal jibe due to the use of the phrase “limp wristed”. The relevant paragraphs of the Code were on respect, conduct bringing the Authority into disrepute, there was also a subset that said Members mustn’t do anything that could breach the Equality Act 2010. She mentioned the local elections in Seacombe ward in 2010 and said that it could be argued that Denis Knowles was acting in his capacity as a Member. She said he was quick to alert and the emails in appendix 2 set out the self referral. He had undergone training and activities, which he had not had before making the comments. Denis Knowles had accepted the findings of the draft report.
The Panel had to decide whether there had been a failure or not been a failure. She said there had been substantial mitigation in the form of an apology and removing the comment, she was happy to ask any questions?
Denis Knowles said he had no questions and had been as open and honest as he could be. He said he had been unaware of the Code of Conduct. He said the claim that he had surgery dates on the Facebook site was untrue. He said on second thoughts he realised his surgery dates were on the WordPress site and on the Wirral Council website. On reflection they had not been on Facebook. It was clear to him that Facebook was not being used by him for political purposes but for social purposes.
He said the WordPress blog was outside the jurisdiction of the complaint covered by the Panel. He said this dispute over whether the Facebook site had his councillor’s surgery details on was the only disagreement he had with the report.