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Council Approves Sanctions Against Councillor

Cllr John Robertson's communications have been limited after Standards Committee recommended full council issue a formal censure and sanctions.

The move follows a Standards Committee hearing on Friday 19th February where the Committee found Cllr Robertson to be in breach of the council code of conduct.

 

In January 2020 a member of the public contacted the council to make a complaint about Cllr Robertson's conduct and behaviour.

 

In July 2020 a formal complaint was made in relation to a number of emails sent using the councillor email facility and to a number of social media postings on, or by, a Facebook account under the name of 'John Robertson'.

 

Professor Grahame Wright, the independent chairman of South Tyneside Council's Standards Committee, said: "It was not disputed that the emails sent by Cllr Robertson to the complainant were sent at times when Cllr Robertson was acting in his official capacity. As a result of at least some of those emails being published on Cllr Robertson's Facebook page, interspersed with other posts concerning the same issue, the Committee found that all of the communications complained of were sent by Cllr Robertson at times when he was either acting in his official capacity or giving the impression of doing so. The Committee found by a majority of 4 - 1, that the Code of Conduct applied to Cllr Robertson at all material times."

 

The Committee went on to decide that Cllr Robertson had breached General Conduct Code 1 in that he failed to treat the complainant with respect, that he breached General Conduct Code 2 in that he bullied the complainant and that he had brought the Council as well as his office as an elected member of the Council into disrepute, thereby breaching General Conduct Code 4.

 

The Committee took into account Cllr Robertson's dissatisfaction with the complainant, and the fact that he accepted that he "overstepped the mark at times". However, on a number of occasions he confirmed that he stood by every word which he had said concerning the complainant.

 

The Committee noted that the communications complained of, both direct and via social media, spanned a number of months, but also that they began before the matters which Cllr Robertson relies upon as provocation took place. It found that informal attempts to modify the behaviour had failed.

 

In light of the above the Committee considered the following sanctions to be appropriate:

 

(a)  Formal censure of Cllr Robertson in writing for his failures to follow the Members Code of Conduct;

 

(b)  Recommending to Council that the Council itself issues a formal censure of Cllr Robertson for his failures to follow the Members Code of Conduct;

 

(c)  The Decision of the Committee to be referred to Council for information; and

 

(d)  Recommending to Council that Cllr Robertson's access to Council facilities be restricted by way of;

 

(1)  all email communications sent by Cllr Robertson to Elected Members and Council Officers either from his Council email address or any personal email address, be diverted into a single email inbox, to be monitored on a daily basis on weekdays by officers, and for such communications to be forwarded to the appropriate individual or service for consideration and if appropriate, action as soon as practicable;

 

(2)  emails sent from Cllr Robertson's Council email account to email addresses of the Clinical Commissioning Group be barred.

 

The sanctions were agreed by Borough Council at their meeting on Tuesday 23 March and will run for a period of six calendar months.

 

Standards Committee also recommended that the Council consider Induction Material and Elected Member training more generally and ensure improvements are made where necessary to rectify any deficiencies or perceived deficiencies in readiness for the local elections in May 2021.

 

Standards Committee Members noted the need for reform of the Standards Regime in England and requested the Independent Chair to write to the Secretary of State to make those concerns known.

 

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