Councillors acted as judge, jury and executioners, as they forced him to “admit” to informing me about a confidential piece of information, before proposing that he be suspended from the planning committee.
Cllrs Lewis, Dobson, Holmes, Carter and Hansford all took turns in traducing Cllr Giles for his apparent crime – and all the above, except Cllr Dobson (who abstained), voted in favour of his suspension from the town council’s planning committee.
What on earth was this dreadful breach of confidentiality?
It was informing me – West Hill’s district councillor – that Ottery Town Council intended to meet privately with Persimmon, about a field that they are interested in building on, in West Hill.
This piece of information, which neither of us considered to be remotely confidential, then formed part of a blog I wrote two weeks ago.
Yes that is really it!
Town councillors seemed to be under the impression that because they had discussed this banal subject with the press and public hastily excluded from a planning committee meeting on 18 November, that it qualified as confidential information.
Agenda item 26 at last night’s full town council meeting read: “To consider and decide on action as a result of the breach of confidentiality following the planning committee meeting of 18 November 2013.”
Cllr Paul Lewis kicked off the court room drama, with a statement. He said he had asked for the agenda item and that mayor, Cllr Glyn Dobson, had mentioned twice in “part b” (where the press and public had been excluded) – that the information was confidential and that the person who had revealed this information, which had “ended up on Cllr Wright’s blog” had “brought the council into disrepute.” He said there should be a sanction as a result.
Appearing to allude to an email that was sent to councillors following the information published on my blog demanding they “fess up” to informing me of the private meeting, Cllr Lewis explained that all councillors confirmed that they did not reveal this information. This was except Cllr Giles, who had pointed out that the information was not, and should not, be confidential.
Then, in a rather contradictory statement, Cllr Lewis said I was entitled to know about the meeting and would have been informed by the town council, but through the “correct channels.”
Cllr Ian Holmes waded in. He said the council had been asked by the developer for the meeting to be held privately and to not disclose that it was taking place. He said the council should have these meetings and it was the right thing to do for the community. If this information goes on blogs, he said, developers might be put off asking for a private meeting in the future.
Earlier in the meeting, three residents from West Hill had all expressed their unhappiness about the forthcoming meeting with Persimmon and asked for it to be taken in public session.
Cllr Giles defended himself. He said only in rare circumstances should councillors have discussions and take decisions with the press and public excluded. It was on an exceptional basis.
He said that the planning committee meeting on 18 November did not state on its agenda that the press and public was excluded, which was not in line with correct procedure.
He said he also had concerned that in this session, a planning proposal was discussed. This was also quite wrong because there was no agenda item about this.
Cllr Giles said that the public was entitled to know that the town council was having a private meeting with a developer and keeping it secret could not possibly be justified. He added: “No way in the world could the fact that the council is meeting a developer possibly be confidential information. It is completely ridiculous.”
Alluding to the behaviour of Cllrs Lewis and Holmes, he said that they were the ones who were bringing the council into disrepute and failing in the required standards of public life.
Mayor, Glyn Dobson, replied that councillors were twice told in the planning committee meeting of 18 November, that the information on meeting Persimmon was confidential and the matter should not have been brought up outside the meeting.
Cllr Paul Lewis then made a further statement, which sounded similar to a detective having identified through covert means, a criminal. He then asked Roger to confirm if he did inform me on the Tuesday after the planning committee meeting, of the fact the Persimmon meeting was taking place.
Accompanied by a few snorts of derision, Roger replied that he had actually informed me of the news, on the same evening as the planning committee meeting.
Cllr Carter told the meeting it was “an open and shut case” as Cllr Giles had admitted it. He added that breaching confidentiality was a “serious matter” and suggested that the council might like to take “appropriate action.”
At this point, Roger said he felt that he was “on trial,” and that he was “absolutely certain” he had done nothing wrong, and to inform me of such a meeting was the “right thing to do.”
Cllr Elli Pang agreed that Cllr Giles was being put on trial by councillors. She added: “He said at the time that he was opposed to the planning proposal being discussed in part b. Why was it a confidential matter?”
Having repeatedly heard my name mentioned and becoming increasingly disgusted at what I was hearing, I had been waving my hand (I am no longer a member of Ottery Town Council) from the sidelines for several minutes at this pointing, indicating I wished to speak. But Mayor, Glyn Dobson had steadfastly refused to call me.
Cllr Dobson indicated that he was not going to let me speak, so I pushed the point and Cllr Giles made a proposal that the town council should hear what I was going to say. Cllr Jess Bailey seconded it, but Cllr Dobson veoted the action and wouldn’t allow a vote, saying that he overruled the proposal. He added that EDDC wouldn’t let someone speak who wasn’t a member of their council.
Cllr George Hansford was called instead. He said: “Cllr Giles is the longest standing member of this council, he should realise that he has breached the rules.”
Cllr Andy Watmore said he had “some sympathy” with Cllr Giles speech, however, he should not have disclosed the information about the private meeting.
Cllr Holmes added that if the council sanctioned a councillor to breach confidentiality because they believed it not to be confidential, it would set a bad precedent.
Cllr Jo Talbot said: “Things like staff salaries should be in part b, why would a developer want to talk to us in private? That discussion should never have been in part b. We now have a really serious PR problem.”
Cllr Talbot of course, was referring to the way councillors were behaving over the issue, but Cllrs Holmes, Dobson, Lewis and Carter, took it the other way and agreed that Cllr Giles was the cause of the PR problem.
Cllr Paul Carter proposed that the council should seek advice from EDDC’s monitoring officer.
But Cllr Lewis had two proposals he had prepared earlier.
Firstly, he called for a vote on whether councillors believed that Cllr Giles had knowingly disclosed confidential information.
Cllr Giles had called for a recorded vote. Here’s the first proposal and results of the vote.
Proposal: “Cllr Giles disclosed information given in confidence which he knew to be of a confidential nature.”
For: Holmes, Hansford, Watmore, Lewis, L.Harding, J.Harding, Carter (7)
Against: Thurgood, Giles, Bailey, Talbot, Pang (5)
With this verdict returned by the majority of the Ottery town council jury, Judge Lewis moved on to his preferred method of punishment – presumably, to make an example of Cllr Giles and teach him a lesson.
Second proposal: “Cllr Giles be excluded from the Planning Committee until May 2014”
For: Holmes, Carter, Lewis, Hansford (4)
Against: Thurgood, Watmore, Giles, Bailey, Talbot, L. Harding, Pang, J.Harding (8)
So the preferred method of punishment fell on (relatively) stony ground and Cllr Giles, quite understandably, pretty annoyed by this time, was gathering his things in order to leave.
Quite appalled at the way that certain councillors had deliberately set out to publicly humiliate the best councillor I have ever known, who had not even done anything wrong, I decided to join him.
On our way out, Cllr Carter was suggesting the issue be referred to the EDDC monitoring officer. Cllr Giles replied that he would be referring it there himself. Cllr Dobson confirmed that the town council would be speaking to the monitoring officer.
As I was leaving I told councillors that I was really sorry to have witnessed the debate and never thought I would ever have heard such a discussion by Ottery Town Council.