Should Seaton’s disgraced ex-Mayor still be Chair of the town’s Lib Dems?

Given that Councillor Burrows (Seaton Town and East Devon district) was forced to resign his post as Seaton Mayor and is subject of at least one complaint to EDDC’s Monitoring Officer:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/01/11/seaton-disgraced-ex-mayor-peter-burrows-town-council-responds-names-names/

should he still be Chair of the Seaton branch of the Lib Dems?

And he might consider amending his puff-job for himself on his “invitation only” Seaton Views Facebook page (from which he excludes or bans many people who do not share his views) where he says:

“… Peter is currently the Chairman of Seaton & District Liberal Democrats with Lewis Ragbourn secretary and Ron Farlow treasurer. The Liberal Democrats in Seaton are the only party that campaigns and informs residents outside of elections.”

Owl thinks that East Devon Alliance is constantly campaigning and informing residents of the whole of East Devon, AND Seaton in particular, with its high-profile Devon County Councillor Martin Shaw, who is campaigning and working tirelessly for Seaton and Colyton – particularly over issues of the NHS and Highways issues in that area.

Local authorities should be able to suspend councillors for up to six months says watchdog

Talk about reinventing the wheel! Before the system was changed local authorities were able to suspend councillors for the rest of the full council term, however long that might be or could ban them from office for years.

THIS government changed the rules now it wants to change them back – albeit
in a very, very lily-livered, watered-down way.

This lack if ability to censure councillors in any meaningful way is highlighted by the ongoing scandal of the disgraced ex-Mayor in Seaton, Councillor Peter Burrows. The rest of the council unanimously voted to urge his resignation from town and district posts but he has so far ignored all requests for him to go:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/01/25/hat-gate-disgraced-seaton-ex-mayor-peter-burrows-scandal-update/

but it is unlikely the EDDC Monitoring Officer will conclude an investigation into his case before local elections on 2 May 2017, leaving voters in the dark as to any action to be taken.

“Local authorities should be given the power to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months, the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) has recommended.

In a report, Local Government Ethical Standards, the CSPL said: “The current sanctions available to local authorities are insufficient. Party discipline, whilst it has an important role to play in maintaining high standards, lacks the necessary independence and transparency to play the central role in a standards system.

“The current lack of robust sanctions damages public confidence in the standards system and leaves local authorities with no means of enforcing lower level sanctions, nor of addressing serious or repeated misconduct.”

The Committee said councillors, including parish councillors, who are suspended should be given the right to appeal to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, who should be given the power to investigate allegations of code breaches on appeal. The decision of the Ombudsman would then be binding.

The CSPL meanwhile described the Monitoring Officer as “the lynchpin” of the current standards arrangements, but accepted that the role was “challenging and broad”, with a number of practical tensions and the potential for conflicts of interest. Local authorities should put in place arrangements to manage any potential conflicts, it said.

However, the Committee concluded that the role was not unique in its tensions and could be made coherent and manageable with the support of other statutory officers.

It called for employment protections for statutory officers to be extended, and for statutory officers to be supported through training on local authority governance.

Other key findings and recommendations in the report include:

There is considerable variation in the length, quality and clarity of codes of conduct. This created confusion among members of the public, and among councillors who represent more than one tier of local government.

Many codes of conduct failed to address adequately important areas of behaviour such as social media use and bullying and harassment.

An updated model code of conduct should therefore be available to local authorities in order to enhance the consistency and quality of local authority codes.

The updated model code should be voluntary and able to be adapted by local authorities. The scope of the code of conduct should also be widened, with a rebuttable presumption that a councillor’s public behaviour, including comments made on publicly accessible social media, was in their official capacity.

The current arrangements for declaring and managing interests are “unclear, too narrow and do not meet the expectations of councillors or the public”.

The current requirements for registering interests should be updated to include categories of non-pecuniary interests. The current rules on declaring and managing interests should be repealed and replaced with an objective test, in line with the devolved standards bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The current criminal offences relating to disclosable pecuniary interests are “disproportionate in principle and ineffective in practice, and should be abolished”.

Local authorities should maintain a standards committee. This committee may advise on standards issues, decide on alleged breaches and sanctions, or a combination of these. Independent members of decision-making standards committees should be able to vote.

The safeguard provided by the Independent Person should be strengthened and clarified: a local authority should only be able to suspend a councillor where the Independent Person agrees both that there has been a breach and that suspension is a proportionate sanction. Independent Persons should have fixed terms and legal protections. The view of the Independent Person in relation to a decision on which they are consulted should be published in any formal decision notice.

Parish councils should be required to adopt the code of their principal authority (or the new model code), and a principal authority’s decision on sanctions for a parish councillor should be binding.

Monitoring officers should be provided with adequate training, corporate support and resources to undertake their role in providing support on standards issues to parish councils, including in undertaking investigations and recommending sanctions. Clerks should also hold an appropriate qualification to support them to uphold governance within their parish council.

At a time of rapid change in local government, decision-making in local councils was getting more complex, with increased commercial activity and partnership working. “This complexity risks putting governance under strain.

Local authorities setting up separate bodies risk a governance ‘illusion’, and should take steps to prevent and manage potential conflicts of interest, particularly if councillors sit on these bodies. They should also ensure that these bodies are transparent and accountable to the council and to the public.”

An ethical culture required leadership. Given the multi-faceted nature of local government, leadership was needed from a range of individuals and groups: an authority’s standards committee, the chief executive, political group leaders, and the chair of the council.

Political groups have an important role to play in maintaining an ethical culture. “They should be seen as a semi-formal institution sitting between direct advice from officers and formal processes by the council, rather than a parallel system to the local authority’s standards processes. Political groups should set clear expectations of behaviour by their members, and senior officers should maintain effective relationships with political groups, working with them informally to resolve standards issues where appropriate.”

An ethical culture starts with tone. “Whilst there will always be robust disagreement in a political arena, the tone of engagement should be civil and constructive.” Expected standards of behaviour should be embedded through effective induction and ongoing training.

Political groups should require their members to attend code of conduct training provided by a local authority, and this should also be written into national party model group rules. “Maintaining an ethical culture day-to-day relies on an impartial, objective monitoring officer who has the confidence of all councillors and who is professionally supported by the chief executive.”

An ethical culture will be an open culture. “Local authorities should welcome and foster opportunities for scrutiny, and see it as a way to improve decision making. They should not rely unduly on commercial confidentiality provisions, or circumvent open decision-making processes. Whilst local press can play an important role in scrutinising local government, openness must be facilitated by authorities’ own processes and practices.”

In a letter to the Prime Minister, contained in the introduction to the report, Lord Evans of Weardale, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said: “It is clear that the vast majority of councillors and officers want to maintain the highest standards of conduct in their own authority. We have, however, identified some specific areas of concern. A minority of councillors engage in bullying or harassment, or other highly disruptive behaviour, and a small number of parish councils give rise to a disproportionate number of complaints about poor behaviour.

“We have also identified a number of risks in the sector: the current rules around conflicts of interest, gifts, and hospitality are inadequate; and the increased complexity of local government decision-making is putting governance under strain.”

The CSPL chair added: “The challenge is to maintain a system which serves the best instincts of councillors, whilst addressing unacceptable behaviour by a minority, and guarding against potential corporate standards risks.
“It is clear from the evidence we have received that the benefits of devolved arrangements should be retained, but that more robust safeguards are needed to strengthen a locally determined system. We are also clear that all local authorities need to develop and maintain an organisational culture which is supportive of high ethical standards. A system which is solely punitive is not desirable or effective; but in an environment with limited external regulation, councils need the appropriate mechanisms in place to address problems when they arise.”

Lord Evans said the Committee’s recommendations would enable councillors to be held to account effectively and would enhance the fairness and transparency of the standards process.

A number of the CSPL’s recommendations involve legislative change which it believed the government should implement. The Committee has also identified ‘best practice’ for local authorities, “which represents a benchmark for ethical practice which we expect that any authority can and should implement”. …

Source: Local Government Lawyer

Hat-Gate: disgraced Seaton ex-Mayor Peter Burrows scandal update

“Calls have been made for the former mayor of Seaton to immediately resign as a town and district councillor after he called for residents to avoid a local business on what purported to be a Tourist Information Centre Twitter account.

At Monday night’s full council meeting, Seaton town council unanimously voted for a motion calling for the immediate resignation of Cllr Peter Burrows as a Seaton town councillor and as an East Devon District Councillor, where he represents the Seaton ward.

Cllr Burrows had stepped down as Mayor at a town council meeting on January 7 as he brought the office into disrepute when he called for residents to avoid a local business on what purported to be a Tourist Information Centre Twitter account, but continued in his role as a councillor.

The Tweet, posted by Cllr Burrows, had said: ‘Here in Seaton, Devon, we have a local business who badmouths the Mayor. Please Avoid’.

It had followed a public argument about fox hunting on the Facebook page ‘Seaton Views’, to which Cllr Burrows took exception to being called a ‘very naughty word’.

The business that Cllr Burrows had then called on residents to avoid on Twitter, The Hat, was not involved in any way in the argument, other than the individual involved in the argument occasionally frequenting the pub.

Gary Millar, proprietor of The Hat, had not been involved in the altercation and was therefore an entirely innocent party.

Cllr Burrows did not attend the meeting and has not responded to requests from the Local Democracy Reporting Service for comment.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting, Mr Millar said that it was inexplicable of Mr Burrows to make a direct attack on him using his title of mayor, and it was a grossly stupid response from any public official and it still not clear why he chose to attach The Hat.

He added: “I have yet to receive a proper apology from Mr. Burrows. His statement of resignation last week did not make it clear that I was not the person who insulted him, then he justified his actions, and finally boorishly he ended with him giving himself a pat on the back for a job well done. Unfortunately, any apology at this time now sounds hollow.”

Mr Millar added: “On the afternoon of New Year’s Day, Mr. Burrows had a very public argument about fox hunting with a private individual on the Facebook page ‘Seaton Views’. This escalated to a robust exchange of views between the two protagonists and Mr Burrows, who is surely used to the rough and tumble of political debate, took exception to being called a very naughty word.

“His inexplicable reaction was to use his title of Seaton Mayor to make a direct attack on me, accusing me of being disparaging to the mayor, and to tell thousands of subscribers to a Twitter page called @SeatonTIC, to avoid my business. On the face of it this was the official Seaton Tourist Information Centre page. This is a grossly stupid response from any public official in any circumstances. You could not make it up.

“It is not at all clear why Mr Burrows chose The Hat as opposed to the many other local businesses that his detractor frequents. Surely, as a public official involved in my various applications, he would have known who I was?”

Mr Millar said that he does not use social media for anything other than professional reasons, and said that although both @SeatonTIC and Seaton Views are ostensibly neutral and exist for the benefit of the people of and visitors to Seaton, it is disturbing that they are administered by a public official without a clear declaration of interest.

He added: “For example, Mr Burrows selectively deleted his unsavoury exchange on Seaton Views and blocked his detractor from the site. Yet he also closed the @SeatonTIC page entirely, not at the request from the Council as reported, but unilaterally overnight on January 1 after legal action was threatened against the then unknown poster.

“This had two effects. First, we are unable to see how many people viewed his tweet to assess the damage caused. Secondly, imagine the impression given to thousands of potential holidaymakers following what they would reasonably have considered the formal Seaton Tourist Information Twitter page. A strange tweet from the town Mayor attacking a local small business, followed by an unexplained blackout. This cannot be good for either my business or the image of the town as a whole.

“I would argue that these actions were not a selfless act by Mr. Burrows, or in the interests of myself or Seaton, but a means of covering tracks.”

Mr Millar said that he views both the local and district councils legally culpable for his actions, regardless of these being rogue or not, and expects them both the local and district council to do their legal duty and mitigate any damage against him.

He added: “This includes a full and open investigation of Mr Burrows’ conduct in office, including on social media, and disciplinary or legal action wherever possible. This motion of no confidence, and the complaint to the East Devon Monitoring Officer is a positive response by the Seaton Town Council.”

Mr Millar, who opened The Hat last year, added: “Despite undoubted damage to my business, the support of my regulars, and other public support helps me believe that moving to Seaton to open up a new and innovative business was the right decision. My sincere thanks to you all and I hope to continue to serve you real ales, ciders and other fine beverages in a friendly environment for many years to come.”

A motion debated at the meeting, which was unanimously agreed, said: “This Council condemns the actions of Cllr Burrows, as behaviour not befitting someone holding public office, and calls for his immediate resignation as a Seaton Town Councillor and EDDC District Councillor.

“In a personal capacity he posted defamatory statements about a local business on social media, but used an account purported to be an official account and referring to himself in the capacity of Mayor. Cllr Burrows has admitted his actions were unacceptable and that the target of his comments was an entirely innocent party. He has shown he lacks the integrity to remain a Councillor and to represent the people of Seaton and East Devon.”

At the previous meeting, Cllr Burrows had unreservedly apologised for his remarks that he made after what he said were ‘disgusting personal comments’ that had been made against him and said that he deeply regretted writing the Tweet.

A town council spokesman had previously said: “Seaton town council wishes to make it clear that despite using the term “Mayor” and using what purported to be a Tourist Information Centre account, Cllr Burrows was not authorised to use his title for personal matters, nor was he authorised to represent the TIC.

“He was acting in a purely private capacity and the Council dissociates itself from his actions.”

The council has reported Cllr Burrows to the Monitoring Officer at East Devon District Council for breaching the code of conduct.

An East Devon District Council spokesman said they were unable to comment.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/former-mayor-should-resign-immediately-2470917

Councillor AND an ex-councillor headache for Seaton Town Council on social media

Statement by recently-elected town mayor Ken Beer:

“I am issuing the statement below on behalf of Seaton Town Council and it’s staff because of recent comments on social media

Complaints have been made to the Monitoring Officer at EDDC about both former Councillor Richard Webster and Councillor Peter Burrows. There are no double standards, since the Monitoring Officer is investigating the complaints against both individuals. Seaton Town Council has made it very clear that it does not condone Cllr Burrows’ behaviour towards Mr Gary Millar of The Hat Micropub. Equally it deplores Mr Webster’s behaviour towards the Town Clerk and Council staff who have behaved in a wholly professional manner, and his latest comments only seem to aggravate his offence. The Council is concerned about councillors misusing social media and will be discussing new proposals to ensure that all members use social media in a responsible manner.

Ken beer-TOWN MAYOR”

EXCLUSIVE: Seaton Mayor resignation: business owner’s statement last night

This is the full statement by Mr Gary Miller (owner, The Hat micropub) as given to Seaton Town Council last night, along with a screenshot and transcript of the now deleted tweets to which he refers:

THE TWEETS:

Transcript:
Twitter @peterburrows 1 January 2019 11.38 am
Burrows tweet:
It seems that someone who was rude to me on Facebook gave the impression that he was the owner of @thehatseaton in #seaton I wish them well in their enterprise.

Comment on above Tweet
Matthew Lloyd @matthewlloyd 16 hr
replying to @peterburrows @thehatseaton
You might want to advise @seatonTIC to be more professional on here and keep personal squabbles on personal accounts. Doesn’t make Seaton seem very welcoming to tourists like myself.

THE STATEMENT BY MR MILLER LAST NIGHT:
(verbatim)

“Good evening. I am Gary Millar, the sole owner of The Hat Micropub in Queen Street. I am addressing the issue of Mr. Peter Burrows, the then Mayor and current Councillor on both a local and district level, attacking my livelihood and business.

On the afternoon of New Year’s Day, Mr. Burrows had a very public argument about fox hunting with a private individual on the Facebook page ‘Seaton Views’. This escalated to a robust exchange of views between the two protagonists. (Amusingly both share the same perspective on the matter). Mr. Burrows, who is surely used to the rough and tumble of political debate, took exception to being called a very naughty word. His inexplicable reaction was to use his title of Seaton Mayor to make a direct attack on me, accusing me of being disparaging to the mayor, and to tell thousands of subscribers to a Twitter page called @SeatonTIC, to avoid my business. On the face of it this was the official Seaton Tourist Information Centre page.

This is a grossly stupid response from any public official in any circumstances. You could not make it up.

It is not at all clear why Mr. Burrows chose The Hat as opposed to the many other local businesses that his detractor frequents. Surely, as a public official involved in my various applications, he would have known who I was?

I do not use social media for anything other than professional reasons. If social media users followed the guidelines given in the Hat including “No nasty opinions” and “Be respectful and remember there are other people around you”, the internet would be a kinder place.

Both @SeatonTIC and Seaton Views are ostensibly neutral and exist for the benefit of the people of and visitors to Seaton. However, they are administered by Mr. Burrows which gives him the control over their content. Reportedly, other supposedly impartial social media sites revolving around Seaton are also administered by him. Personally, it disturbs me that a public official has such a domination of information without a clear declaration of interest.

For example – Mr. Burrows selectively deleted his unsavoury exchange on Seaton Views and blocked his detractor from the site. Yet he also closed the @SeatonTIC page entirely, not at the request from the Council as reported, but unilaterally overnight on the 1st/2nd January after legal action was threatened against the then unknown poster. This had two effects – first; we are unable to see how many people viewed his tweet to assess the damage caused. Secondly; imagine the impression given to thousands of potential holidaymakers following what they would reasonably have considered the formal Seaton Tourist Information Twitter page – A strange tweet from the town Mayor attacking a local small business, followed by an unexplained blackout.

This cannot be good for either my business nor the image of the town as a whole. Surely, directing subscribers to the official Tourist Information Site would at least have been a productive step.

I would argue that these actions were not a selfless act by Mr. Burrows, or in the interests of myself or Seaton, but a means of covering tracks. A clear case of canting.

I have yet to receive a proper apology from Mr. Burrows. His statement of resignation last week did not make it clear that I was not the person who insulted him, then he justified his actions, and finally boorishly he ended with him giving himself a pat on the back for a job well done. Unfortunately, any apology at this time now sounds hollow.

Mr. Burrows was high profile in his role as Mayor and councillor on both local and district levels. As such I view both the local and district councils legally culpable for his actions, regardless of these being rogue or not. I expect both the local and district council to do their legal duty and mitigate any damage against me. This includes a full and open investigation of Mr. Burrows conduct in office, including on social media, and disciplinary or legal action wherever possible. This motion of no confidence, and the complaint to the East Devon Monitoring Officer is a positive response by the Seaton Town Council.

Despite undoubted damage to my business, the support of my regulars, and other public support helps me believe that moving to Seaton to open up a new and innovative business was the right decision. My sincere thanks to you all and I hope to continue to serve you real ales, ciders and other fine beverages in a friendly environment for many years to come.

There is however still much to do from both Councils to support the current small traders and promote the opening of new dynamic, interesting small shops in Seaton. Encouraging visitors to move to the traditional trading area, now called The Cultural Quarter, from the lower end of town is an urgent requirement to start. Regrettably, after a year of trading in Seaton and having contributed in various forums, I have yet to see any concrete or effective steps to this end by the Council. This is an opportunity for both the Council and traders to reset and have a fresh start.

In conclusion I would urge all councillors to support this motion of no confidence. What most surprises me is that Mr. Burrows has not recognised his position as being untenable and has not resigned already on his own volition.

Thank you for your time and attention.”

BREAKING NEWS:Seaton’s disgraced ex-Mayor fails to turn up to meeting about his behaviour

Seaton’s disgraced ex-Mayor Peter Burrows failed to turn up to a meeting this evening which called him to further account for his recent behaviour and to hear a statement from the businessman he (mistakenly) maligned on a Twitter account since deleted:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/01/11/seaton-disgraced-ex-mayor-peter-burrows-town-council-responds-names-names/

The meeting confirmed councillor Ken Beer as mayor and Councillor Jack Rowlands as his deputy.

The person originally and erroneously maligned by former Mayor Burrows (Garry Miller of The Hat micropub) made a personal statement.

It is believed that the ten remaining councillors voted unanimously for a resolution calling on Burrows to stand down as both a town and District councillor for bringing both councils into disrepute.

Owl gathers that, as well as a complaint to the EDDC monitoring officer, there will also be a complaint made to the regional Liberal Party about Burrows’s behaviour within the next few days

Seaton disgraced ex-Mayor Peter Burrows: town council responds, names names

“Seaton Town Council has revealed the details behind the resignation Mayor Peter Burrows.

He stood down last week after it was revealed he used his position to make an ‘offensive’ remark on social media about a local business.

In an official statement issued today (Friday January 11) the town council says:

“On Monday evening, January 7, at the Seaton Town Council meeting, councillors were advised by Cllr Burrows that he had been involved in an altercation on Facebook which resulted in him referring to himself as Mayor and using a Twitter account named “Seaton TIC” to ask members of the public to ‘avoid’ The Hat micropub.

“However, Mr Gary Millar, proprietor of The Hat, had not been involved in the altercation and was therefore an entirely innocent party.

“Seaton Town Council wishes to make it clear that despite using the term Mayor and using what purported to be a Tourist Information Centre account, Cllr Burrows was not authorised to use his title for personal matters, nor was he authorised to represent the TIC.

“He was acting in a purely private capacity and the council dissociates itself from his actions. Nevertheless, we apologise unreservedly to Mr Millar and The Hat for the impression which Cllr Burrows gave that he was acting on behalf of the council.

“On Monday Cllr Burrows tendered his resignation as chairman and Town Mayor because he recognised that his behaviour had brought his office as Town Mayor and the council into disrepute. The council will now report Cllr Burrows to the Monitoring Officer for breaching our Code of Conduct.

“The council will also be considering a motion at a meeting on Monday January 21, calling for Cllr Burrows to resign as a town and district councillor. The council has also asked Cllr Burrows to close the Twitter account involved and he has done this.

“Seaton Town Council enthusiastically supported the opening of The Hat and recognises the distinctive contribution this attractive, well-run establishment has already made to the town’s life.

“The Council is keen to support the town centre and The Hat is exactly the kind of new business we want to see in Seaton. Mr Millar has conducted himself with dignity throughout this affair and we deeply regret the harm Cllr Burrows attempted to cause to The Hat. We wish it and Mr Millar the very best for the future.”

** Cllr Burrows confirmed to the Midweek Herald that he had stepped down after offering his ‘unreserved apologies’ to the business concerned. He said he would be making a statement to The Herald shortly.”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/cllr-peter-burrows-brought-the-authority-into-disrepute-1-5848139