Brent Council has refused to refer a complaint about a councillor's conduct made by well known Brent Twitter activist @PukkahPunjabi.
Pukkah Punjabi's sent the following email to Fiona Alderman, Brent Council Chief Legal officer on February 23rd 2016:
Fiona Alderman replied on March 10th 2016I would like to register a complaint at the conduct of Councillor James Allie during tonight's (22nd Feb) council meeting. During the entire budget debate, which given the current financial situation is of the utmost gravity to Brent residents, Cllr Allie was seen reading a magazine (the Catholic Herald) which bore no relevance to the proceedings. When I took the photos attached to this email he showed me what he was reading and was unapologetic about the fact that he had just spent the past hour paying no attention to proceedings.I wish to have this matter investigated by the Standards Committee as I believe Cllr Allie has shown a disregard for the residents of Alperton who elected him and complete contempt for all the residents of Brent who will soon be feeling the impact of the budget decisions taken tonight and which Cllr Allie regarded as undeserving of his time.I look forward to your response.
The last paragraph is of particular interest because it appears that Alderman is judging the legitimacy of a complaint based on the person making the complaint rather than the substance. The admonishment in the last sentence to someone who is a member of the public and not a councilllor or council employee is extremely high-handed - who is Fiona Alderman to instruct a member of the public in their conduct on social media?I write further to your complaint in relation to Councillor Allie’s conduct at the Full Council meeting on 22th February 2016.
I have considered the complaint under the Members’ Code of Conduct complaints procedure and have consulted the Independent Person, the Chief Whip and the Chief Executive. In all the circumstances, I have decided that on this occasion your complaint does not warrant any further action under the Code of Conduct. I have, however, reported your complaint to the Chief Whip for the Labour Group and written to Councillor Allie to advise him that the conduct you complained of must not be repeated.
In exercising my discretion, I took into account one of the comments you tweeted about Councillor Allie after the meeting on 22 February 2016, which he drew to my attention, which refers to Councillor Allie in insulting, derogatory and defamatory terms. Such comments are unacceptable and are unhelpful in holding Members to account.
Does this mean that if another member of the public had complained that the complaint would have been referred to the Standards Committee?
If anyone is interested in the 'insulting, deregatory and defamatory' tweet, just use your imagination and knowledge of @PukkahPunjabi's tweeting style and the interests of practising merchant bankers.
Fiona Alderman, the Monitoring Officer, says that she considered Pukkah Punjabi's complaint under the Members' Code of Conduct complaints procedure. For anyone who is interested, I will "copy and paste" the relevant part of that procedure below.
A key person in that procedure is the Independent Person, who Ms Alderman states that she consulted, along with the Labour Chief Whip (Cllr. Sandra Kabir, who is also Vice-Chair of Standards Committee) and the Chief Executive. As I have said in previous blogs, it appears that Brent Council has not had a properly appointed Independent Person (under the Localism Act 2011) since May 2014. Perhaps Pukkah Punjabi would like to ask the Monitoring Officer for the identity of the Independent Person who was consulted about her complaint, and when and by whom that Person was appointed to the role?
Although not listed in the complaint, the actions of Cllr. Allie at the Council's budget meeting would appear to breach at least three of the general conduct principles set out in Brent's Members' Code of Conduct: integrity, accountability and leadership.
Pukkah Punjabi's complaint was on a matter of substance, and although some of her other comments could be considered unacceptable, that does not, and should not, affect consideration of the complaint itself.
Extract from Brent's Procedure for Dealing with Complaints under the Members' Code of Conduct:-
'4.1 The Monitoring Officer will review every complaint received.
4.2 The complaint must be:
• Against one or more named members of the authority; and • In relation to a named member who was in office within the authority at the time of the alleged conduct and the code of conduct was in force at the time; and
• In relation to an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct.
4.3 If the complaint does not fall within 4.2 above the matter will not be considered and the complainant will be informed that there will be no further action.
Continued in further comment below
Continued from comment above:-
Extract from Complaints Procedure:
4.4 Where the complaint passes the above test, and in order to establish a preliminary view of the circumstances of the complaint and whether there may be a course of action which could be taken to resolve the issues promptly without the need for formal action, the Monitoring Officer may consult or meet with any relevant persons, which may include the Leader of the Council or Group Leaders, the Chief Executive or any other officers, the complainant and the member against whom the complaint has been made.
4.5 The Monitoring Officer will consult with the Independent Person to determine the course of action to be taken. This decision will normally be taken within 14 days of receipt of the complaint. The complainant and the member against whom the complaint is made will be informed of the Monitoring Officer’s decision and the reasons for that decision. Three outcomes are available:
(i) No formal investigation and no further action paragraph (4.6) below
(ii) No formal investigation and local resolution paragraph (4.8) below
(iii) Referral to the Standards Committee for a decision to be taken on investigation – paragraph 5.
4.6 In assessing whether a complaint should be investigated the following factors will be taken into consideration:
• Public Interest – the decision whether to investigate will be a proportionate response to the issues raised and expected outcomes and will take into account the wider public interest and the costs of undertaking an investigation. Complaints will only be investigated where the allegations are reasonably considered to be serious matters.
• Alternative course of action – a complaint will only be investigated where there is no other action which could be taken which would achieve an appropriate outcome in the circumstances of the case.
• Previous action – if the complaint has already been subject to a previous investigation or some other action relating to the code of conduct or other related process, the matter will ordinarily not be referred for further investigation of the same matters.
• Vexatious/repeated complaints – the Monitoring Officer will not refer for investigation a complaint that is the same or substantially the same as one previously made by the complainant.
• Timing of the alleged conduct – if there are significant delays between the incident complained of and the complaint the matter will not ordinarily be considered further unless there are very good reasons for the delay.
• Ulterior motive – no further action is likely to be taken if the complaint is considered to be only motivated by malice, political motivation or retaliation.
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