Standards Board clears Fenland District Council Leader Alan Melton of any wrong doing
BY John Elworthy A LOCAL council watchdog today cleared Fenland Council Leader Alan Melton of allegedly bringing the authority into disrepute. They also made it clear they felt councillors should be able express their views freely and unhindered. The Sta
BY John Elworthy
A LOCAL council watchdog today cleared Fenland Council Leader Alan Melton of allegedly bringing the authority into disrepute.
They also made it clear they felt councillors should be able express their views freely and unhindered.
The Standard Boards of England -who fast tracked the complaint by chief executive Tim Pilsbury- cleared Cllr Melton of two charges.
In a landmark ruling the Standards Board said the council's code of conduct "is clearly not intended to stifle the expressions of passion and frustration that often accompany discussion about the efficient running of a council."
On balance, the Standards Board considered the comments made by Cllr Melton were clearly not intended to receive wider circulation and "were not sufficiently serious to amount to a failure to treat others with respect."
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An ethical standards officer who probed the complaints on behalf of the board dismissed claims that the email sent by Cllr Melton last November included comments that were unfair, unreasonable and offensive.
The email, marked 'strictly confidential', was sent to a handful of colleagues by Cllr Melton expressing concern about the council's failure to progress plans for a leisure centre in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.
"When setting out his suggestions for how the council should move forward, Cllr Melton made critical comments about two council officers and suggested that he would 'show the door' to any officers who obstructed him," says today's report.
"Cllr Melton acknowledged at interview that his email had been clumsily worded and he has apologised publicly for any offence caused
"Cllr Melton commented that he would have drafted his email more carefully had he known it would receive a wider circulation than that for which it was intended.
"The ethical standards officer considered that Cllr Melton could have communicated his determination to overcome obstacles and, with officers, deliver a leisure centre for Chatteris without singling individuals out for criticism in email format. He also considered that his general comment about showing officers the door was unwise."
However the board made clear that Cllr Melton had never intended for his comments to receive wide circulation and that it was, essentially, a private email.
The standards board, in referring to possible plans for 1,000 homes in Chatteris, said Cllr Melton "was entitled to raise this issue with his political colleagues".
They also concluded that Cllr Melton's thoughts would in no way have reduced "the public's confidence in him being able to fulfil his role as a councillor".
The allegations of failing to treat others with respect and bringing the office or authority into disrepute were dismissed.
The findings bring to an end a whirlwind three months at Fenland Hall with all those involved in the battle to censure Cllr Melton now effectively gone.
Cllr Yeulett lost his job as deputy leader after councillors decided he had acted unprofessionally in taking the confidential email to the chief executive.
And Council Leader Geoff Harper, who surprised colleagues by revealing he had joined Cllr Yeulett at the meeting with Mr Pilsbury, resigned prior to a possible censure debate.
As for Mr Pilsbury, who forwarded the complaint to the Standards Board, he decided last month to take early retirement.
Cllr Melton explained Mr Pilsbury's departure partly in terms of recent discussions over management savings "and we both agreed it would be good to start at the top by reviewing the chief officer team."
Cllr Melton added: "I would stress that this decision was reached jointly and amicably, with no animosity on either side."
Ironically Cllr Melton announced earlier today the probable successor to Mr Pilsbury would be deputy chief executive Sandra Claxton, with executive director Paul Medd promoted to the deputy.
The appointments will be ratified by full council in May and Mr Pilsbury will end his Fenland career the following month.
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