The Local Authority and Social Care Ombudsman found that the Teignbridge District Council’s investigation into the conduct of its members was flawed.
Teignbridge investigated Councilor Cllr Daws’ actions after he claimed he acted “against the Code of Conduct”.
Cllr Daws complained to the Ombudsman that he was subject to “undue sanctions” that damaged his “personal and professional reputation” because the council did not follow due process in investigating him.
He appealed to the Council as follows:
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- launched an investigation without any complaints about his conduct contrary to the law and its own policy;
- misled him that such a complaint had been made.
- did not disclose details of any such complaint that may have been made; and
- Did not conduct the due diligence of the independent investigator appointed to investigate the complaint.
The Ombudsman found that “many aspects” of the Council’s investigation were flawed. Contrary to the law, it concluded that the investigation was not provoked by formal written complaints.
The Ombudsman reviewed the Localism Act 2011. The law states, “To initiate an investigation into a suspected violation, the council must receive details of the allegation in writing.”
The ombudsman said during its investigation that the council “clearly received no formal complaints regarding the actions of Councilor Dows”. Received a written complaint/concern/complaint” which was “deemed to be a written complaint”.
The council suggested that it would be “perverse” for surveillance officers to have to demand “written complaints” if they become aware of inappropriate conduct.
It suggested to the Ombudsman that “the full record of complaints received by the Inspectorate may have been lost over time.”
The council also failed to provide the councilor with sufficient information about his alleged code of conduct violations, the ombudsman suggested.
Teignbridge made new allegations in the process, but the independent investigator appointed to investigate the case did not disclose to Cllr Daws whether they were part of the investigation, the report said. points out.
The Ombudsman also found that an investigation into Cllr Daws’ conduct was conflated with charges against another trustee that were being investigated at the same time.
The report found that after Cllr Daws expressed legitimate concerns about the way the investigation was conducted, the council reviewed the investigation and failed to consider whether due process was followed.
Finally, the council did not consider Mr Dawes’ enhanced right to free speech as an elected representative. Or relevant when considering his legitimacy for a particular comment he posted.
The Ombudsman made a number of recommendations to improve the Council’s processes following the investigation, but clarified that the Council “has not yet agreed to accept these.”
To remedy the injustices caused, the Ombudsman recommended to the Council:
- We accept this finding and apologize to Cllr Daws.
- We are revoking the July 22, 2020 notice of decision upholding complaints that Cllr Daws has violated the Code and will no longer be available on our website. Instead, you should provide a statement stating that the notice was withdrawn following this investigation and provide a link to this report.
The Ombudsman also recommended that the Council should ensure that it has written procedures for officers and independent investigators asked to consider complaints against the standards.
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King said: The Council should keep this in mind when deciding what constitutes a violation of the Code of Conduct.
“Both officers and members have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace, and the Council’s desire to do more to protect them from ill-treatment should be encouraged. On the one hand, they still need to fairly and properly conduct research on the standards of trustees.
“I look forward to the Council considering my report at the senior decision-making level and hope that it will accept any suggestions I have made to improve its processes and procedures.”
A spokesperson for Teignbridge District Council said:
“We are already in the process of reviewing our constitution, including member conduct, processes and recordkeeping, and in the coming weeks we will review our current approach in the light of the Ombudsman’s findings and recommendations.
“We apologize to Cllr Daws for the failure of our procedure and the impact on him.
“We believe that our officers will be respected and supported to provide professional, fair and valued service and that our members will act in accordance with the Nolan Principles enshrined in the Council’s Code of Conduct signed by all members. We have to ensure that.”