AN OPPOSITION councillor is calling on the leader of Wokingham Borough Council to resign after a meeting was found to be in breach of its own rules.
Cllr Imogen Shepherd-DuBey (Lib Dem) is asking for Cllr John Halsall to stand down after the Standards Committee was found violating the terms of the council’s constitution.
While Cllr Halsall says it was down to an honest mistake, Cllr Shepherd-DuBey says that the council has acted unethically.
On Monday, January 11, the Standards Committee, which monitors councillors’ behaviour and ensures they are following the code of conduct, was curtailed following a point of order.
Earlier in the meeting, resident Philip Meadowcroft tried to highlight that there were too many members of the council’s executive on the Committee, contravening the constitution.
But it wasn’t until Cllr Shepherd-Dubey raised a point of order over the issue that the meeting was adjourned.
Committee members Cllr John Kaiser, executive member for finance and housing and deputy leader of the council, and Cllr Wayne Smith, executive member for planning and enforcement, were both present, as was Cllr John Halsall, leader of Wokingham Borough Council, who chaired the committee.
But according to point nine of the constitution, the Standards Committee must comprise “six elected members of Wokingham Borough Council, and only one of those elected can be a member of the executive”.
It also states “the leader of the council is not entitled to be a member of the Standards Committee”.
Minutes into the meeting, Mr Meadowcroft questioned the protocols in the constitution and asked for clear guidance on chapter nine, but Cllr Halsall said that the meeting “was not a room for debate”.
Twenty minutes later, Cllr Imogen Shepherd-DuBey, ward councillor for Emmbrook, echoed Mr Meadowcroft’s concerns which were soon confirmed by Andrew Moulton, monitoring officer at Wokingham Borough Council.
The meeting was then cut short.
Now, Cllr Shepherd-DuBey is calling on Cllr Halsall’s resignation and says it is “outrageous” that this had not been spotted sooner, and she fears that the council may have been operating dishonestly.
“John Halsall should never have been able to veto complaints against councillors and block them in the first place,” Cllr Shepherd-DuBey said.
“It’s fairly obvious that some decisions have been dealt with inappropriately for some time, and this affects the way that our council operates.
“They have not been upholding complaints against councillors, and I question whether they’ve been evaluated properly.”
She is also worried that it has been able to “sweep complaints against councillors under the carpet”.
“He’s the judge and jury on any complaints,” she added.
“The executive is marking its own homework basically, and is controlling what’s going on.
“It’s completely outrageous.”
According to Cllr Halsall, nobody, including officers and opposition councillors, had spotted that the Committee was in contravention of the council’s constitution until Monday night, adding that its current make-up had been in place for 21 months.
He said that all decisions made by the committee had been ratified by previous full council meetings, with no concerns raised.
And the committee chair was also voted on during a full council meeting.
Wokingham Borough Council has since announced changes to the Standards Committee, and Cllr Smith and Cllr Halsall have both resigned with immediate effect.
“I wish to thank Mr Meadowcroft for raising the matter,” Cllr Halsall said. “Swift action has been taken to address this anomaly.
“I also immediately asked all officers to check other committees in case there are any other similar issues and they have reported back that there are not.”
A report confirming the revised composition of the Standards Committee will be made to the next council meeting on Thursday, January 21.