Cabinet member and parish council chairman censured on casting vote of conduct committee chairman
15:53 02 April 2014
On the chairman’s casting vote, Fenland Council conduct committee upheld an investigator’s report that a Cabinet member and a parish council chairman “warned off” a councillor from reporting a planning breach.
Councillor Steve Emery, chairman of Manea Parish Council and Councillor Pop Jolley, Fenland Council portfolio holder for leisure and also a Manea parish councillor, appeared before the committee today.
Both were alleged to have “discouraged” another parish councillor, Councillor Alan Fielding, from raising the issue of an illegal building being put up by Tommy Savage in Old Dairy Yard, Manea.
Solicitor Stephen Pearson was appointed by Fenland council chief executive Paul Medd to conduct the investigation and found both had failed to treat Cllr Fielding with respect.
Cllr Emery was also found guilty of bringing the parish council into disrepute and of improper use of his position.
Mr Pearson’s report was upheld on a split decision - two councillors voted against further action but chairman Councillor Fred Yeulett, with his casting vote, decided sanctions were necessary.
A letter of reprimand will be sent to Manea Parish Council highlighting the committee’s concerns at the conduct both of its chairman and Cllr Jolley.
Mr Pearson said: “It does seem that Councillor Fielding was not treated with respect when he sought to bring forward an issue of relevant concern raised by parishioners.
“He was put off from raising the issue by both Cllr Emery and Cllr Jolley.
“I would expect that the chair of a council would have such a matter put on the agenda when brought to his attention, whether or not it was put in writing.
“To seek to prevent or dissuade members from bringing legitimate items forward for discussion, for whatever reason would seem clearly to be inappropriate and bring the parish council into disrepute.
“It does seem clear that Cllr Emery as chairman sought to use his position to prevent this major planning breach from seeing the light of day.
“This is particularly concerning as the individual involved had a history of committing breaches of planning control and had a historical business relationship with councillors Emery and Jolley.”
Cllr Fielding said he was invited into the kitchen of Manea village hall by Cllr Emery and Cllr Jolley before last April’s parish council meeting and told to keep quiet about Mr Savage’s planning breaches since he “knew too much” about council business.
Part of the inquiry centred on previous business relationships between Cllr Jolley, Cllr Emery and Mr Savage.
Cllr Emery said he had not worked for Mr Savage for 11 years and Cllr Jolley said Mr Savage had not worked for him for more than three years.
“These allegations are ludicrous and the whole matter has been conducted on hearsay.,” said Cllr Emery.
“It is not in my character to act in any way I have been portrayed. I’m on the council to serve the community to the best of my ability and this matter has seen my honesty, integrity and good name brought into disrepute.”
Cllr Jolley said: “Had I known about the issue, I would have reported it myself.
“Cllr Fielding was told by four people what to do. Whenever I’ve made a mistake in the past I’ve always put my hands up. I’ve not done it this time because I have not done anything wrong.”
Councillor Rob Skoulding said that Cllr Fielding had received “good advice” from the clerk on how to proceed and he “didn’t think there was any case to answer for”.
He was supported by Councillor Mike Humphrey, who said the matter was driven by animosity between the councillors and should have been resolved before it reached the conduct committee.
But chairman Cllr Yeulett said: “Clearly the relationships between the parties involved are very fractious but it is the responsibility of councillors whenever they are given information to take action.”
But Councillor Will Sutton told Cllr Emery: “I absolutely respect what you have done for Manea but facts are facts. I agree with the report and would argue Cllr Jolley also brought the council into disrepute.”