CODE - Promotion of equality and respect
CODE - Referred to Standards Committee
Pembrokeshire County Council
The Ombudsman received a complaint that a Member of Pembrokeshire County Council (“the Council”) had failed to observe the Code of Conduct for Members of the Council. It was alleged that the Member had published a post in June 2020 on the social media platform Facebook, which could be considered to be racist, and could have the potential to damage the reputation of the office of Member and of the Council.
The Ombudsman’s investigation established that the Member had publicly published his post in order to raise concerns about the Council’s decision to light up County Hall in support of Black Lives Matter. The Member deleted his entire Facebook profile page some weeks later. Numerous complaints about the post were made to the Council and to the Ombudsman’s office, and the Member was subject to local and national Press interest, as well as considerable comment on Facebook. The Member said that he considered the post to fall within his right to free speech because he did not believe he had really offended anybody, and the complaints that were made against him were politically motivated.
The Ombudsman accepted that the Member had the right to question the Council’s decision to support Black Lives Matter, however the language used by the Member was offensive and went beyond what would be expected of a councillor in a political discussion. The Member had not taken advantage of opportunities to attend equality and diversity training or social media training.
The Ombudsman determined that the Member may have breached the Council’s Code of Conduct, in particular paragraph 6(1)(a) as he could reasonably be regarded as having behaved in a manner which might bring the office of member, or the Council itself, into disrepute. The Ombudsman referred his investigation report to the Monitoring Officer of Pembrokeshire County Council for consideration by its Standards Committee.
The Standards Committee decided that the Member had made the post in his capacity as Councillor and censured him for breaches of paragraphs 4(b) and 6(1)(a) of the Code. It said it would have considered a suspension had the Member been re-elected at the recent Local Government elections.