Under-fire leader of council may face disciplinary action
THE leader of a Yorkshire council could face disciplinary action for attending a meeting behind closed doors about a bullying scandal which is blighting the authority.
Coun John Blackie refused to leave the Richmondshire District Council meeting held this week to discuss the threat of legal action from a senior manager over her bullying ordeal.
The Yorkshire Post revealed yesterday that the authority's monitoring officer, Margaret Barry, could be awarded a six-figure compensation payout if she is able to prove that she may never be fit to work again as a result of stress caused by bullying.
A probe by local government expert Richard Penn named Coun Blackie among a group of councillors guilty of bullying council staff, including Mrs Barry. However, Coun Blackie failed to declare an interest and leave the private sessions of the meeting of the resources committee, of which he is the chairman, and could now face an inquiry into whether he has breached the code of conduct for councillors overseen by the Standards Board for England.
While an initial Standards Board inquiry found no action needed to be taken against the councillors guilty of bullying for breaching the code of conduct Coun Blackie may now face a new investigation. If found guilty of breaching the code he could be disqualified from public office for up to five years.
A Richmondshire councillor, who asked not to be named, said: "It is farcical that a councillor found guilty of bullying staff is leading a meeting which is discussing this very issue. It seems that Coun Blackie may well have breached the councillors' code of conduct, and a formal request is due to be made to the Standards Board for England for an inquiry to look into this.
"It is such a sensitive issue concerning the potential compensation payment that the council needs to be doing all it can to resolve the problems as soon as possible."
Negotiations are due to begin between the council and Mrs Barry to draw up a severance package from her £50,000-a-year job, which involves a dual role as the corporate unit manager overseeing democratic services, in return for the withdrawal of any legal claims.
But the Yorkshire Post has learned that Mrs Barry's solicitors in Newcastle upon Tyne believe she has good grounds for lodging an employment tribunal claim.
It is understood legal action could take several strands relating to bullying and harassment as well as claims of sexual discrimination and potentially constructive unfair dismissal, and council taxpayers would have to foot the bill for any payout.
Mrs Barry returned to work from sick leave in June but has since asked to be relieved of her duties as monitoring officer, a role which involves advising councillors on their conduct and interests.
She claimed the post had become "untenable" because of her close dealings with certain councillors after Mr Penn's investigation found she had been the victim of bullying.
Coun Blackie said: "On matters of who chaired the meeting in the private sessions and who declared interests, I am not allowed to comment."
The inquiry by Mr Penn found five councillors guilty of bullying the authority's staff. A sixth councillor was guilty of sustained harassment of council workers.
A council spokesman said: "While we cannot comment on specific cases, the council will be happy to fulfil its role and help if any disciplinary inquiry is launched by the Standards Board...into a possible breach of the councillors' code of conduct."
Source: YorkshireToday.co.uk (02/12/2006)
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