Decision day looms for town clerk of Wisbech - nearly 10 months after he was suspended
Nearly 10 months – or to be precise 295 days- after they suspended their clerk, Wisbech Town Council will meet in private tonight to set in motion disciplinary charges against him.
Councillors have called an extraordinary meeting of the staffing and policy committee to consider a report from the council’s solicitor on the future of town clerk Erbie Murat.
The six member committee will be invited to form a disciplinary panel to finally resolve what happens to Mr Murat.
Susanah Farmer, the deputy town clerk, said the council had used an external solicitor to advise them on what had been a lengthy and complex issue.
“The solicitor was brought in as part of the whole issue,” she said. “There has been a process to follow and you can’t cut corners. In hindsight there may have been a different way to handle it.”
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Mr Murat was called in to see council leader David Oliver on January 7 where allegations of misconduct were put to him and he was suspended, initially, for a month. The allegations initially surrounded Mr Murat’s working relationships with the Beadle but were later added to as councillors probed more deeply into the running of its own ‘back office’.
Mr Oliver said he had to make “the hard decision to suspend him for matters of misconduct” but had hoped it would resolve it quickly.
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However the case has dragged on for much of the year, with Mr Murat at one stage issuing a 21 page rebuttal of allegations which he said had been made against him.
He also attempted, unsuccessfully, to force the conduct committee of Fenland Council to take action against both Mr Oliver and his deputy Jonathan Farmer. The committee ruled it would not intervene whilst the town clerk remained suspended and the HR issues were outstanding.
The town council has already had reports from an investigation committee whose membership included independent councillor Dave Patrick.
He received a reprimand last month from Mrs Farmer for his public comments calling for the case against Mr Murat to be dealt with more speedily.
She accused him of breaching the council’s rules by speaking publicly about the issue and said she was “very concerned that issues that are confidential have been put into the public domain. Councillors have repeatedly been told that this issue is confidential and not for discussion outside the council and is currently in the hands of solicitors as a legal matter.”
She added: “I feel this will give Erbie more cause to counter claim and prolong the process”,
Mrs Farmer said she had contacted the monitoring officer of Fenland Council and Wisbech Town Council’s own legal representative for advice “as is it my duty to maintain the integrity and lawfulness of this council”.
Mr Patrick he has said or done nothing wrong and he accused Mrs Farmer of emailing all councillors with her views.
“At the very least it was discourteous and I had expected better from you as, until now, I had found your management of the town council work exemplary,” he told her.
He had asked for specifics about what he had allegedly revealed that was confidential but had heard nothing since.
Mr Patrick was a member of the original investigation committee which concluded their work in May and whilst he could not comment on their findings he was surprised the issue remained unresolved.
“Mr Murat certainly shouldn’t be waiting this long and I don’t think it would happen anywhere else,” said Mr Patrick. He said the delays in resolving the town clerk suspension showed “complete and utter incompetence by the ruling (Conservative) group to deal with this efficiently and effectively. The people of Wisbech deserve better- so far this has been a total waste of council taxpayers’ money.”
Mr Murat had been town clerk for five years and apart from his appearances before the town council investigation committee has rarely been seen this year.
He will now get the chance to defend himself against the council’s accusations at a formal hearing.
Earlier this year Mr Murat berated Mr Oliver and Mr Farmer insisting they had “bullied, harassed, intimidated, threatened and victimised” him.
He said a meeting with both men was a “pre-meditated, co-ordinated attack on me and the office of the town clerk for Wisbech Town Council. In doing so they breached my employment contract”.
Mr Murat says the case has had an “an extremely deleterious effect on me.
Mr Oliver has maintained a silence throughout the long period of suspension.
He said he took the decision to suspend Mr Murat and has since remained at arms length from the investigation.
“I am in the middle and not supposed to be involved,” he said.