FULL REPORT: Convicted councillor questioned over declaration of interests at council meeting

Ripon Council Meeting - image supplied by Alex Florence Photography
Ripon Council Meeting - image supplied by Alex Florence Photography

Convicted Councillor Andrew William’s future on the finance committee remains unclear after another bad-tempered council meeting on Monday, July 27.

Coun Williams (Ind) was elected to chair the committee on June 2 but resigned from the position one month later following a motion proposed by former city Mayor, Coun Mick Stanley (Cons).

The motion stated that ‘no elected member may sit on the Finance and General Purpose Committee (F&GP) if in possession of a criminal record until such time as the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in their individual case be spent.’

Despite the vote eventually being passed by full council on Monday, June 29, Coun Williams was still represented at Monday’s F&GP meeting by substituting Coun Peter Horton (Ind).

Coun Stuart Martin (Cons) first raised concerns about the convicted councillor still being represented on the committee.

He said: “Nobody is in dispute of how many members of the committee should be from the Independents, but one of the members that is here is representing Coun Williams as a substitute.

“According to the motion at the last meeting then that is the situation we are in, until we are told differently.

“It may be that we get told at a future date that information is wrong but what we are questioning tonight is that Coun Horton is here in a substitute role for Coun Williams.”

When councillors and members of the public pressed about the motion not being implemented, the council clerk and Deputy Mayor, Coun Adrian Morgan (Ind) explained they were still seeking clarification from the National Association of Local Council’s solicitor.

The response prompted uproar from the public and Conservative councillors who claimed that the resolution should ‘stand as it reads’ until they are told otherwise.

Coun Stanley said: “I brought the motion. This council passed the motion, therefore it becomes a standing order. There is no debate unless a higher court overthrows it. It’s very simple.

“When we have a standing order it stays in place until a higher court gets rid of it or this council decides to.”

Coun Williams sat silently as Coun Morgan reiterated his decision to defer a decision on the motion until they received clarification from solicitors.

As jeers of discontent grew from the public, fellow Conservative councillor Peter Pearson also supported the original motion to stand.

He said: “There is a decision, the council made a decision on June 29 and that is the decision that stands until it has been struck down.

“We are bound by it until it is undone and it hasn’t been yet so we must be bound by it.

“It may be challenged, perhaps, and who knows what the decision will be then, but until such time as it is overturned we are bound by that motion just passed.”

Coun Pearson made the declaration minutes after beating off competition from Coun Sid Hawke (Ind) to replace Coun Williams as chair of the F+GP.

With the vote at 6-5 in favour of Coun Pearson, Coun Hawke announced he would resign from the race with Coun Pearson announcing he was ‘looking forward’ to working with him as Deputy Chair.

The moment proved to be one of the more amicable of a highly charged meeting, which saw both councillors and the public regularly voicing their frustrations.

After more than 100 residents turned out on June 29 to protest Coun Williams’ appointment, residents were again out in force on the Market Square.

Residents held up signs encouraging others to ‘Blow Your Horn Ripon’, the name of an action group created to lobby for ‘change’ in the city.

Speaking before the meeting, Blow Your Horn Ripon member John Watson, said that he believed Coun Williams’ appointment had ‘brought shame’ on Ripon.

He said: “We thought it was ridiculous that he was retained on the F&GP committee, let alone be the chairman. We feel that he should not be on the council.

“It’s brought disgrace on the city and that is something that needs addressing. There is a mood of change here in Ripon that’s gathering pace.

“There’s a deep feeling of mistrust in the city council and it’s time that started to make them wake up to what’s going on.”

During the meeting, members of the public took the opportunity afforded to them to question the business of the council, including Coun Williams’ register of interest.

Councillors were then pressed to respond to one resident’s enquiries that there were no undisclosed family relations in the council.

After initially refusing to answer the question, the meeting threatened to descend into farce as all 11 council members stood up to confirm they had no relations on the council.

One member of the public then began a question regarding Coun Williams’ registers of interest to which the former Mayor objected to, claiming it was not an agenda item.

Coun Williams said: “The agenda item is quite specific - it says to request any disclosure of an interest in relation to any matter under consideration at this meeting, financial or otherwise, and to consider any written request for dispensation.

“This item is not on the agenda, they are therefore in breach of the council’s standing orders and the council should move on to other business.”

Despite his arguments, the Deputy Mayor allowed the member of the public to continue questioning the council about Coun Williams’ interest in the company.

He said: “According to Companies House, Coun Williams was and is registered as a director of a company called Foss Islands Media. This company was incorporated on September 1, 2014.

“On the certificate of incorporation, the registered address given is 1 Lark Hill Close. Coincidentally, this is also happens to be the registered address of Mayor, Coun Pauline McHardy’s.

“This was subsequently changed a couple of weeks ago on July 5, 2015, to 3 Econ House Bondgate which is on one of Coun Williams’ registered addresses.

“Why was this information not on Coun Williams’ declaration of interest? Why was this not on Coun McHardy’s declaration of interest and indeed whether she was aware of it?

“Why did Coun McHardy not declare this as a personal and prejudicial interest at the previous meeting on June 29 and whether the council is aware that failure to disclose this information may represent offences under sections 29. 30 and 34 of the 2011 Localism Act.”

Deputy Mayor, Coun Morgan, confirmed that the council would take note of what was said but explained they could not give the resident an answer on the night.

Neither Coun Williams or Coun McHardy has responded to the claims.