East Devon councillors in name-calling spat

Councillor Paul Millar wasn’t respectful when he called CEO lazy and pompous

‘Lazy and pompous’ remarks not respectful

An investigation into an independent East Devon councillor has found he failed to treat people without courtesy and respect after a complaint  made against him by the former independent council leader, now a Tory, who had himself been found to have treated the same councillor with a lack of curtesy and respect.  

Cllr Paul Millar has apologised to the council’s chief executive after a standards investigation concluded that language used in his emails breached the code of conduct. The complaint was made by Cllr Ben Ingham, who breached the council’s code of conduct about courtesy and respect earlier this year.

Cllr Paul Millar was found to have on six occasions used language of a personal and derogatory nature which showed a failure to treat the chief executive with courtesy and respect. The emails were sent in January and February this year and followed comments that the chief executive Mark Williams had made in public at council meetings.

In the emails, Cllr Millar had said that Mr Williams “had a very long pattern of behaviour of briefing against councillors to the press and I believe it’s getting to a point whereit has become no longer tolerable,’ as well as saying “he is cold, arrogant, lazy, pompous, and highly disrespectful in remarks he makes in public about elected, backbench members.”

Another added: “Your comments were ‘councillor-blaming’, you did it publicly and they reflect poorly on the council – there’s no public ‘officer blaming here’ – only rightful disgust that you seek to brand us as having a parochial mindset when this is far from the truth.”

The text of Cllr Millar’s emails were published as part of the decision notice, but not the full chain of the emails whereby any additional context to them were given. The standards committee found that he breached the code of conduct in that he failed to treat others with courtesy and respect but complaints made by Cllr Ben Ingham that his actions were a pattern of bullying behaviour were dismissed, and that while Cllr Millar brought his office into disrepute, they did not bring the council into disrepute.

The hearing, held in private, heard that Cllr Millar, who at the time was an unaffiliated Independent, stated that he had been frustrated by the political situation and felt powerless to influence the council’s actions. He explained the difficulty he had experienced while an independent councillor and that he felt unsupported and said felt the actions of the chief executive were unwarranted and that this had caused him to react as he did.

Having been found to have breached the code of conduct, Cllr Millar, who is now democracy and transparency portfolio holder, said he had apologised to Mr Williams. He added: “I have submitted an apology to the CEO for any hurt caused by comments which I could have worded in a different way.

“I came into local government to act fully in the public interest at all times and stand up for all of the residents living in East Devon, particularly those who been dealt a bad hand in life and are unfairly suffering as a result of the pandemic. For as long as I am a councillor, I will continue to do this. I still have questions about the investigation but I’m really keen now to move on and fully concentrate on helping people in my ward and continue my progress in working with my amazing colleagues in the new administration in making the council more open and transparent.”

The complaint made against the conduct of Cllr Millar was made by Cllr Ingham, who earlier in 2020 had been found to have breached the code of conduct by not treating Cllr Millar courtesy and respect. A standards investigation into the then leader of the council’s conduct found that Cllr Ingham had shared confidential details around health matters to other councillors, as well as making a ‘two fingered gesture’ at Cllr Millar during a scrutiny committee meeting. The complaint against Cllr Ingham was upheld by the council’s monitoring officer and he was required to give a written apology to Cllr Millar.

A code of conduct complaints update report which went to the standards committee earlier this month publicly revealed the details of the breach, and while Cllr Ingham was not named as the councillor, the Local Democracy Reporting Service has seen information to confirm he was the councillor.

The report also heard that an allegation that an unnamed councillor who booed a speech made at a meeting was resolved with agreement to informal mediation. An East Devon District Council spokesman declined to comment.

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