Where’s my apology?
by Matt Coot
“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters, cannot be trusted with important matters”
On 7th July 2017, I resigned as an elected representative from the Saltash Town Council. For several years, I worked alongside other town councillors in being responsible representatives for the people of the town. We made decisions that directly affected the lives of people, and we worked hard on projects to improve the town as a whole. Yet, in July 2017, I felt that I could no longer continue on the council because of the unpleasant nature of a minority that was making the work of the council a horrific experience.
The truth of the matter is that I felt like I, along with other members of the council, were victims of bullying and malicious allegations. I was witness to, and victim of, regular offensive and ridiculously rude email correspondence and would also witness campaigns of hatred towards leaders of the council due to petulant reasons of jealousy.
Failing in following statutory duties
In August 2017, my complaint against a councillor – who had been one of the main perpetrators of the above problems – was judged by the Cornwall Council Standards Committee, who oversee the conduct of the councils throughout Cornwall. My complaint was that the councillor had sent a series of emails that were hurtful, unpleasant to read, abusive, and failed to treat the recipient with respect. I had included that I felt bullied, intimidated, and discriminated against, with regards to my mental health and age. A ‘Decision Notice’ was administered against Saltash Town Councillor John Brady.
“The Subject Member has breached the Code of Conduct for Saltash Town Council. The recommended action is that the Subject Member should apologise in writing to the Complainant for the tone and content of his email within 28 days of this notice.”
Decision Notice dated: 16th August 2017
At the time of writing this article, 219 days have passed and no apology – verbal or written – has been given by the councillor.
Within the Decision Notice, the Standards Committee stated that Cllr Brady “failed to adhere to the general principles of public life” and that he had “conducted himself in a manner contrary to the Council’s statutory duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct”. As those are the judgements of the Standards Committee, it is unclear why the elected representative has refused to apologise.
There was recently a furore over what the current mayor of Saltash said in a private conversation prior to a meeting of the town council. According to the witness who complained, the mayor was heard to say a racial slur. In contradiction to this claim is the defence that the mayor, a former teacher, was having a private intellectual debate about how language has changed over time, explaining how certain words and phrases are no longer allowed. Despite this understandable defence, the Standards Committee of Cornwall Council investigated and told the mayor that she would have to apologise and attend training. The mayor has apologised multiple times and is awaiting the training. She was also the victim of an attempted coup to oust her as mayor when a group of ‘independent’ councillors (the oxymoron of a ‘group of independents’ is one that I may explore in a future article) worked together with a vote of no confidence. However, with support from members of the public and from the majority of the council, she remains the mayor of the town.
This seems like a straight forward issue of there being a problem and those watching over the conduct of the elected representative investigated and took action, right? Apart from the fact that not many people are aware of: the Standards Committee has no power. It cannot force anyone to follow through with the “required actions” that it sets out in its Decision Notices. It cannot hold the representatives to account. If a representative decides not to do as the Standards Committee judges as the best course of action, then the Standards Committee has no power to punish that representative. They get away with it. The Standards Committee, which is there to oversee the councils of Cornwall and to ensure that the elected representatives are following the rules, is a shark with no teeth.
During the recent furore, Cllr John Brady gave an interview from his home with the local TV news. He gave his opinion that the mayor should have resigned following the decision made by the Standards Committee about her wrongdoing. This is a councillor who blatantly ignored the Standards Committee when he was found to be guilty of not adhering to the “general principles of public life” and failing to conduct himself in the manner of the “Council’s statutory duty to promote and maintain high standards of conduct”. This is a councillor who ignored the recommended action of issuing an apology, which furthermore demonstrates his complete disregard to the Code of Conduct and his statutory responsibilities as an elected representative. This is hypocrisy at its most obvious.
I sent a letter to the town council asking why Cllr Brady had ignored the Decision Notice from the Standards Committee. The letter was not read out during the meeting and went largely ignored by all. I’m sure you’re wondering why the vocal group of ‘independent’ councillors, who were so adamant that the mayor should resign over a similar matter, wouldn’t be so similarly vocal over this matter. Well, the answer is quite simple: Brady is one of them.
From the Latin adjective ‘major’, meaning ‘greater’, and the Old French ‘maire’ for ‘primary’ or ‘principal’, the role of mayor is “the head of a town, borough, or county council, elected by council members and generally having purely ceremonial duties.”
In Saltash, the town council votes for a new mayor-elect each spring. This mayor-elect then becomes the mayor during an official ‘mayor choosing’ event. On Monday 26th March 2018, the next election of the mayor and deputy mayor will take place.
I have been informed that there is only one candidate for the mayor of Saltash: Cllr John Brady.
In my opinion, as someone who has watched very closely, this is an elected representative who: has failed to apologise after failing to comply with the rules regarding the conduct of councillors; creates a culture of unpleasantness and stress amongst councillors; hypocritically called for the mayor to resign; has orchestrated the votes of no confidence in the last three mayors (all of which had failed); and fails to make an appearance at many civic events. In fact, during 2016/17, when I was a councillor, I checked the attendance levels of each councillor throughout that year: Cllr Brady had been present for only 56% of full council meetings, and had left early during two of those meetings. During the same time period, he only attended 24% of all committee meetings. He also never attended any ‘Meet your Councillors’ events, during which members of the public could meet with councillors in the town centre to ask questions and raise issues. I haven’t checked this year’s figures, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he has made a concerted effort to improve his attendance figures to make this a key point in his campaign to become mayor.
As mentioned, Cllr Brady has flat out refused to attend many town events. When I was the Honorary Secretary of the Saltash May Fair Committee, we had invited all councillors along to the civic parade. Cllr Brady responded saying that he was too busy to take part in the civic occasion, and to attend the community event, because he would be playing golf. I have also discovered another email, in which Cllr Brady refuses to attend the town’s remembrance service and parade because of a disagreement he had with a matter being debated. He uses the word “again”, which shows that this wasn’t a one time thing. Councillor Brady has also refused to attend many of the Civic Services that have taken place over the last few years. So it begs the question, if Cllr Brady becomes mayor, will he attend functions and events to support the community? Taking evidence of his commitment so far, it is my opinion and judgement that he won’t.
Another problem that there will be for Cllr Brady, if he does become mayor, is his dislike and disrespect for a large proportion of the council and the town’s representatives to Cornwall Council. Mayors need to be able to lead and, simultaneously, give support to councillors. I’ve already displayed evidence that Cllr Brady was not supportive during my time as being a councillor – especially when I was struggling with mental health issues – but there is another issue that Cllr Brady dislikes Liberal Democrat councillors. In an email sent on 4th May 2017, Cllr Brady said that the Liberal Democrats were “sad and sick”, as well as “smug and spiteful”. He declared that “if I am re-elected to Council I will make it my mission to ensure the Lib Dems are shown up for the spiteful crowd they are”. Interesting, then, to consider what kind of mayor Cllr Brady would be with almost half of the councillors on Saltash Town Council being affiliated with the Liberal Democrat party. Can Cllr Brady be trusted to represent the entire council? Or will his “mission” against the Liberal Democrats stop him from being able to lead the whole council?
As for the ‘election’ of the mayor, it is an interesting point that Cllr Brady has previously made his views on the role of mayor known to other members of the council:
He had followed this email with another reply where he set out his plan for the mayor to be elected by a public vote and for the mayor not be one of the elected councillors. His plan was for there to be an elected member of the community to become mayor. This direct election of a mayor is interesting, but one that hasn’t been explored further.
However, as Cllr Brady was the one who first spoke of having a public vote for the mayor, I thought it was only right that the public get a voice in the election of the mayor this year. So, I posted a poll on my public Facebook Page. I explained my position, but asked for people to give me their views. After all, as seen above, Cllr Brady does believe in the public vote. The poll can be reached following the link below:
To me, a mayor should be a role model to all of the town. They should lead by example and attempt to always abide by the expectations laid out in the code of conduct. They should be always working towards raising the standards of the council, and should always be working towards promoting the positive steps taken by the council. It saddens me to think that the town of Saltash is about to be given a mayor who doesn’t deserve to be in that much respected position.