Saturday, 25 October 2014

Bringing official bodies into 'disrepute': the dangers of censoring what politicians don't want to hear in East Devon

In Putin's Russia, it is considered unpatriotic to criticise government policy:
Russian TV series demonises ‘anti-Putin’ cultural figures | News - The Calvert Journal
Dissident Russian artists getting squeezed by political pressure - The Washington Post

... as it was in the post 9-11 United States:
On 9-11, patriotism, and the U.S. flag | Psychology Today
Snowden: NSA targeted journalists critical of government after 9/11 | TheHill

... and this attitude extends to all kinds of regimes:
BBC News - Australia's Tony Abbott calls broadcaster ABC unpatriotic
Critics of government are selfish and unpatriotic: article|Politics|Topics|WantChinaTimes.com
Criticising Government policy is 'unpatriotic' - Politics - Digital Spy Forums

This tendency to shoot the messenger and indulge in ad-hominem attacks because the information is unpalatable to the powers that be is a well-established political technique - and is alive and well in East Devon...

Here is an observation from a full council meeting last year:

What brings a council into disrepute?

25 JULY 2013

East Devon Alliance representatives attended yesterday’s meeting, and have sent SIN their reflections:

Some observations on yesterday’s Full Council meeting at Knowle (24th July)

· There has been much talk about the reputation of EDDC, and about outspoken councillors and staff who allegedly bring EDDC into disrepute. (Councillor Eileen Wragg’s recent reprimand, is one example.) Frankly the council did a top job of bring themselves into disrepute last evening, with the leadership once again showing they seem to regard themselves as unaccountable.

Leader Paul Diviani took an arrogant stance towards the public speakers and to councillors who had asked questions and supplementaries being classic examples of disrespect. Mild-mannered Councillor Susie Bond was among those who were outraged. ”I take strong objection to the Leader’s response that I have a low opinion of council staff. Nothing can be further from the truth”, she said.

· There was a shambles regarding the non-availability of the paperwork, and errors in it , which, amongst other matters, led to deferral of the social media policy item. Councillor Trevor Cope was particularly scathing about the poor quality of paperwork.

· There was an evident mismatch between the way the meeting was conducted, and Councillors’ claims that as a modern business, EDDC needs premises to match their professionalism.

· That councillors voted against a recorded vote should not be ignored- what message does that send and how does that fit with transparency?

· Several committee Chairs seemed to struggle with their briefs, Cllr Parr being the best (worst) example. In a well-run business context, they would be dismissed.

· The chair, Councillor Godbeer, forgot such things as asking for abstentions, debate before voting, and the like. He had to be reminded several times of correct procedure.

· The contributions from some councillors was poor. Sidmouth Councillor Drew couldn’t find her glasses, and asked questions about matters already discussed at length at last week’s DMC meetings (e.g. Why ‘regency ‘ had been removed from wording in LP document). Councillor Newth, also representing Sidmouth, told an anecdote about the problem at the fire escape at Knowle.

· The Chief Executive was accused of bias, by fellow Tory Mike Allen, a Senior Councillor and close colleague for many years.

· The consequent remark made by Cllr Twiss was somewhat disturbing. He declared he was satisfied to take the word of CEO Mark Williams, because “he is a qualified solicitor”. Since when were solicitors always right? Why do we clock up horrendous bills because solicitors argue with one another over their interpretation of the law? That Twiss is so willing to take Williams’ word is cause for great concern, not least given his role re the Knowle relocation.

· Finally, the rants about Knowle being unfit for purpose seemed to completely ignore the more modern part of the building, while concentrating exclusively on the old hotel. Scrapping a substantial 30 year old building may well prove to be an unaffordable extravagance.

What brings a council into disrepute? | Sidmouth Independent News

Concerns were expressed this time last year about District Council proposals on social media:

Is the “gagging clause” gone from the social media policy?

Monday, 30 September 2013 5 Comments by Claire

Reading the EDDC standards committee agenda papers for next Wednesday I am pondering about whether the “gagging clause” has been removed from the draft social media policy, as I requested at the last full council meeting in July.

At the last standards committee meeting in July where the social media policy was debated, committee member, David Mason said he was concerned that the policy contained a “gagging clause” and could prevent councillors from giving their views freely about controversial issues, such as the local plan, for example - see account of the meeting here - http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/social_media_policy_could_gag_councillors/

At the last EDDC full council meeting on 24 July I raised these concerns and proposed that it be amended.

Cllr Roger Giles also asked that the restriction on blogging about “sensitive” issues be deleted from the policy. Including the word “sensitive” could have prevented blogging about a whole range of interesting or controversial issues.

The reference to “sensitive” issues, has duly been deleted in the revised version of the policy.

The new clause on not blogging about any issue that may bring the council into disrepute has been changed from:

“You must not make any comment or post material that may cause damage to the council’s reputation or bring it into disrepute.”


“You must not make any comment or post material so as to give a reasonable person the impressionthat you have brought your office as councillor or the council into disrepute.”

Will this sentence be used in an attempt to restrict my blogging activities?

Only time will tell….

The revised draft is now online with the standards committee agenda papers and will be debated nextWednesday, 9 October, at 10am, in the EDDC council chamber

Here’s the link to the agenda papers -http://eastdevon.gov.uk/combined_standards_agenda_091013.pdf


3. At 08:54 am on 01th Oct Tim wrote:

Whoever came up with the phrase ““You must not make any comment or post material so as to give a reasonable person the impression that you have brought your office as councillor or the council into disrepute.” has done just that!

A council that brings in rules that makes it intolerant of free speech has no place in a democracy. What could be more disreputable?


To quote from an entry last year in this blog:

The question remains as to how 'independent' voices can make themselves heard. 

Whilst councillors will not seek to 'bring their office or the council into disrepute'


... it is perhaps a matter of interpretation as to how this might occur:
Councillor suspended over planning influence allegations - News - Sidmouth Herald 
EDDC brings itself into disrepute, yet again 
Councillors who have been referred to the Standards committee - a Freedom of Information request to East Devon District Council - WhatDoTheyKnow 
What brings a council into disrepute? | Sidmouth Independent News 

Futures Forum: Independent Councillors - independent voices

Things have just erupted in Axminster:

AXMINSTER: Councillors clash over library jibe
21st October 2014 By Anders Larsson anders@tindlenews.co.uk


A social media war erupted at Axminster Town Council when one councillor labelled another one’s Facebook conduct “an absolute disgrace”. The altercation broke out during a debate about the future of Axminster Library.

Councillor Andrew Moulding, who also serves on county and district council, updated the town council on a meeting with the county council’s library team and other relevant parties.

It emerged that the county councillor responsible for libraries, Roger Croad, had apologised for failing to respond to a letter from campaign group Support For Axminster Library. The failure to respond to the letter had really annoyed campaigners, so much so that a cartoon depicting councillor Croad appeared on its Facebook page with a chunk of text along the lines of: “You are a naughty boy Mr Croad, your dog ate my letter.”

What had so far been a standard update turned into more of a drama when a stern-faced councillor Moulding said: “I’m always proud to be an Axminster town councillor, we have a good reputation at district and county councils. For a member of the town council to distribute this [the cartoon] I think is an absolute disgrace. I believe it is a code of conduct issue. I was very ashamed.”

Councillor Moulding had at this point not named names, and had everyone’s attention when he said: “I know it wasn’t written by councillor [Paul] Hayward, but it was distributed.” He also referred tot the fact that councillor Hayward is a keen supporter of the public’s right to record and film council meetings, and asked: “What is councillor Hayward going to do with the recordings of the town council?”

Councillor Hayward, who serves his first term on the town council, launched an immediate counter attack, saying: “What I share as a personal individual is down to me. It is my personal Facebook, and the same goes for my Twitter feed.”

He said he was not impressed by councillor Croad’s demeanour during a public meeting in the town, and added: “I’m afraid Axminster is being pushed back and back - and I don’t think enough people are pushing back the other way.”

He also refereed to the fact that earlier that day East Devon District Council chief executive and returning officer Mark Williams had been accused of breaking the law by a Select Committee member, and said: “Please, councillor Moulding - do not lecture me.”

Councillor Hayward attracted a fair amount of applause from members of Support For Axminster Library.

One of those members attending was Jo Hawkins, who told councillor Moulding: “There’s always been satire in politics. It was frustration. If our MP can’t get a response, what chance do we have.”

After further debate, mayor Jeremy Walden drew the matter to a close by saying: “If councillor Moulding has a complaint to make, he knows the procedure.”

Councillor Moulding indicated he would not make a formal complaint, saying: “I don’t wish to see the town demeaned any further.”

Councillor Hayward is no stranger to controversy. In May he was found guilty of breaching the code of conduct for councillors by “being disrespectful towards a member of staff at the district council” in an e-mail to a group councillors.

View From Online - News from West Dorset, East Devon & South Somerset

Here is a reply on the EDA website, printed from the Pulman's View from Sidmouth letters pages:


October 22, 2014

That’s the situation in the NHS, according to Dr David Drew (author of Little Stories of Life and Death), in his BBC Radio 4 interview broadcast this morning.
The councillors (coincidentally none from the ruling Party) who have been hounded by EDDC, may identify with the situation the NHS whistleblowers are in. The latest to be bullied is Axminster Town Councillor, Paul Haywood, whose letter to the press is copied below. It was published in Pullman’s View from Sidmouth this weekend.

‘On the evening of Monday 13th October, during a public session of Axminster Town Council, I was subjected to an uncalled for attack on my personal character by Cllr Andrew Moulding of such enmity and vitriol that it took my breath away. Supported by Cllr. Graham Godbeer, he claimed that I had brought the town council into disrepute, and caused acute embarrassment to his County Council colleagues, by way of my use of Facebook to show support for the campaign group seeking to retain Axminster library.

With regards to the spurious basis of his diatribe, and his claim that I had breached the Councillors Code of Conduct and should thus be reported to the Standards Committee at EDDC, I have no option but to await a formal complaint against me, something which should be done in a proper, and pre-determined manner according to the rules laid down for such complaints.

However, as Cllr Moulding and Godbeer now steadfastly believe that disagreements between Councillors – be they Town, District or County – can be reasonably aired in public, I would ask to be allowed to put a question to both of these gentlemen via your publication.

Are both of you content and happy at the way in which Axminster is being treated by all and sundry?

Having already lost DCC funding for our youth service, having our library chronically underfunded, our hospital at risk of losing its beds; we now find ourselves further adrift from the District Council, which seems intent on moving its HQ as far as humanly possible from Axminster, without adequate transport links being put in place. There is no Local Plan in place, the DC has been taken to court by the ICO for failing to divulge information under the FOI Act, our Chief Executive is summoned to Westminster to explain his failings in improving voter registration number and is accused of breaching electoral law.

Draconian public speaking restrictions are scheduled that will prevent both members of the public and town councillors alike from objecting to unnecessary and unsustainable planning and development in our town.

Our pavements are a disgrace, there are weeds on every road and in every car park, the wall outside the Guildhall remains collapsed, the additional dog bins remain uninstalled, the town centre remains an eyesore – sadly mentioned by all visitors – and has been so for decades despite years of your stewardship at all levels of local government. Axminster has no town centre regeneration plan in place at EDDC and yet you, Cllr Moulding, inexplicably sit on the regeneration board for Exmouth!

Our young people have so very few job prospects presently, but when another 1000 houses are built to the north and east of town, what is the plan for employment then? ; According to you both, the answer lies West! Get on the train to Cranbrook, to Skypark, to SciencePark, to Exeter… that is your local plan, and the bedrock of the proposed local plan for the whole of East Devon.

If you are both happy with this state of affairs, and stand firm in your belief that the people of Axminster should pay their taxes AND deliver the services as volunteers too, and if you believe that a polite cartoon poking fun at a professional, well paid politician who showed the utmost disrespect and disdain to the people of Axminster, our MP and our Town Council is more important than the long term interests of the people of this town who you claim to represent, then I think it is time that you have a long, hard look in the mirror and decide who you really represent – the public, or your party… because you can’t serve them both!’

Other cases of dissenting councillors being harrassed by EDDC, will be the subject of another EDA post soon.

“Whistleblowers are pursued and persecuted” | East Devon Alliance

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