Two councillors rapped for their bad behaviour have come under more fire – with fears future staff would “think twice” about joining the authority.

Nunthorpe’s Cllr Jon Rathmell, and Cllr Terry Lawton, member for Brambles and Thorntree, were both given sanctions earlier this year by Middlesbrough Council’s standards committee.

Both were accused of harassment and bullying and ordered to apologise to certain officers after they were found guilty of breaching the authority’s code of conduct.

Cllr Matthew Storey, the Labour member for Middlesbrough Central , raised concerns about the wider implications of councillor behaviour.

He said: “It’s important we show officers that elected members stand behind them when other elected members choose to bully and harass or behave in a completely inappropriate way.

“That’s important to set an example for future staff – because many job opportunities come up and people may well think twice about whether they want to be employed here.

“They may not want to be employed here because of behaviour of some elected members in the not too distant past.”

The meeting was told Cllr Rathmell had his phone number blocked by council officers and his pass stopped from accessing certain authority buildings under the sanctions. Cllr Rathmell told Teesside Live after the meeting that his phone had never been blocked as a result of his alleged conduct as a councillor. He said a block was imposed on his private number and had since been removed.

Cllr Lawton had access to his social media via council IT equipment disabled alongside other penalties.

The power to lift restrictions preventing the MICA member (Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association) from contacting certain officers directly was handed over to senior council staff.

The meeting was told both councillors hadn’t apologised for past breaches of the code.

Cllr Storey thought this showed “contempt” for committee, the authority and “those people being bullied and harassed”.

“They have chosen not to apologise which, on a human level, is not a difficult thing to do,” he added.

“Take your medicine and just say I’m going to apologise – the fact both of them haven’t done that is not particularly surprising and very disappointing.”

He also wanted to see the standards committee “have more teeth”.

“When issues like this arise we can only ask nicely for people to do what we tell them to do,” added Cllr Storey.

Meanwhile, chairwoman Cllr Julia Rostron was concerned directing Cllr Rathmell to the central call centre would simply re-direct any problem.

“I’m just concerned he’ll start using that number and harassing people in the call centre,” she added.

Council officer Samantha Dorchell said that “would need to be looked at” as a separate issue.

Earlier, she explained the communication plans in place for the two councillors would be reviewed every six months.

Ms Dorchell added: “What that delegation won’t allow is for those officers to impose sanctions or to extend communication plans – the delegation is for positive acts.”

Panellists also heard Cllr Lawton was “willing” to engage in mediation – but were told Cllr Rathmell wasn’t. Cllr Rathmell said after the meeting he had never been invited to mediation and therefore could not have refused it.

Cllr Mick Thompson, Labour member for Berwick Hills and Pallister, offered his view.

He added: “I’m sure there are occasions when the behaviour of our staff falls below the standards set out.

“It’s interesting the set of rules our staff are expected to follow are completely absent when it comes to their employers – that really is a very stark contrast.”

A spokesperson for MICA said its panel representative had not attended the meeting as it would “legitimise a flawed process” and asked the sanctions be removed.

The spokesperson also claimed Cllr Rathmell had not been allowed to attend the meeting.

Cllr Rathmell said: “It’s against the cause of natural justice not to be able to defend yourself.

“The people of Middlesbrough aren’t daft and realise it’s nothing more than a witch hunt.”

Cllr Lawton said any claim to make him out to be a bully were “totally unjustified” and hoped complainants would “have a strong enough character” to cope with “robust political banter”.

The independent councillor added: “As far as I am concerned, I put the people of Middlesbrough first.”

:: This article was amended on October 12. Cllr Rathmell says he did not have his phone number blocked as a result of any activities as a councillor. Cllr Rathmell has also made clear he did not refuse to engage in mediation.

© 2018 Tees Info

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