Councillor ordered to apologise for Facebook harassment

A councillor has been ordered to apologise for “harassing and offensive behaviour on Facebook”, a report into complaints against elected members has revealed.

The incident was one of two where a councillor was found to have breached Staffordshire County Council’s Code of Conduct for Members after a complaint was made during an eight-month period.

The other complaint where a breach was found involved an allegation of a district member corporate parenting role.

An apology was also required in this case, but no further details of the incidents, or the identities of the elected members involved, were made public in the report presented to Staffordshire County Council’s Audit and Standards Committee meeting this month.

In total 16 complaints against elected members were received between October 2020 and May 2021.

The report said: “The complaints fall into four broad categories: use of social media; failure to respond to correspondence; abuse of power and failure to follow procedures. All have been considered in line with the agreed process and have involved consultation with an Independent Person.

“The actions listed demonstrate the respect held by members for the Code of Conduct, with swift action taken by those found to be at fault with ‘lower level’ breaches, and formal action taken on those breaches that merit formal action. The summary of complaints also demonstrates the importance of the council’s action in early 2020 to strengthen its code in relation to the use of social media.”

In late 2019 an updated set of guidelines was put forward to help councillors avoid causing offence online.

They were urged not to post on social media if they had been drinking or were angry, as well as being warned not to hide their identity or give a pseudonym when making comments on social media.

Complaints made to Staffordshire County Council against elected members between October 2020 and May 2021 - and findings/actions:

1: Failure of member to respond to correspondence regarding Cannock Chase – No breach of obligations under code

2: Failure of member to respond to correspondence regarding Cannock Chase – Slow to reply but no breach of code

3: Failure of member to respond to correspondence regarding Cannock Chase – Slow to reply but no breach of code

4: Visit of member to vaccination centre – No breach, visit deemed to be community representative action

5: Allegation of district member corporate parenting role, letter to councillor querying involvement in children’s charity – Breaches, apologies required

6: Failure to deal with complaints regarding highways condition/non-participation in parish council meeting – No breach, complainant advised

7: Refusal to communicate with constituents/attend parish council meeting – No breach, complainant advised

8: Member not addressing highways complaints/failure to attend parish council meeting – Decision emails failed – email address not valid

9: Member not addressing highways complaints/failure to attend parish council meeting – No breach, complainant advised

10: Harassing and offensive behaviour on Facebook – Breaches, apologies required

11: Complaint regarding installation of fibre broadband at member’s premises/abuse of position – No breach of code, evidence from Open Reach regarding process for determining provision for member’s property

12: Failure to comply with first complaint sanction – Referred to Standards Panel

13: Facebook posts/ abuse of electoral register info -The complainant didn’t want to follow up

14: Allocation of Community Fund to organisation with personal links/failure to declare interest – Member is to receive training on code of conduct and declarations of interest

15: Premature publication of Government funding/acting beyond remit – No breach of code, all information already in public domain

16: Failure to act on highways complaints/responsibility for online reporting system – No breach of code

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