A parish council chairman who called a fellow councillor “a racist” and “a bigot” broke the council’s code of conduct by being disrespectful, a committee has found.
Skelton Parish Council chairman Joe Watt, a former City of York councillor, also said Cllr Adrian Mansell was “a negative impact to the village” during an online meeting in November 2020.
A meeting of York council’s joint standards committee found that Cllr Watt’s behaviour did not amount to bullying or intimidatory behaviour, but was disrespectful, after Cllr Mansell submitted a complaint.
The standards hearing was held in private. The council’s monitoring officer Janie Berry said this was because it could lead to material about people other than those at the hearing being disclosed.
Both Cllr Mansell and Cllr Watt had submitted complaints about each other, and Cllr Mansell’s wife, Linda Mansell, also submitted a complaint about Cllr Watt.
During October and November 2020, vacancies arose on Skelton Parish Council and Mrs Mansell submitted successive applications for the council to consider her co-option, but these bids were either not formally addressed or when they were she was unsuccessful.
It was alleged that Cllr Watt effectively blocked Mrs Mansell’s co-option by not following the process properly and holding a “secret meeting”.
The panel said there was insufficient evidence to uphold that complaint, but said it was “concerned” by some of Cllr Watt’s statements over the co-option.
Mrs Mansell was eventually co-opted onto the council in October 2021.
‘Disruptive in meetings’
Cllr Watt alleged that Cllr Mansell had been “disruptive in meetings” and “extended his inappropriate behaviour to others appointed to and or closely involved” with the council, but the panel did not uphold this complaint.
Cllr Watt has previously submitted a complaint about Cllr Mansell, but it was not upheld after an investigation that concluded in July 2020.
In the latest investigation, the panel said there were “heightened levels of animosity” between the pair that “also extended to matters beyond the scope of these complaints.”
An independent review of the council’s processes and conflict resolution training have been recommended by the panel.
As a sanction, it has been recommended that the parish council “passes a motion of censure that Councillor J Watt has acted in a disrespectful manner to Councillor A Mansell and has declined to offer an apology.”
The panel said the council had “historically failed to address the co-option process correctly” and recommended training that Cllr Watt is “actively encouraged to participate in”.
The panel also said the council “should address its attitude towards its clerk to ensure they are fully supported and resourced.”
In a decision notice, the panel said: “From the evidence obtained during the investigation and from the hearing, it is evident that there are underlying issues involving long standing personal conflict and poor working relations between certain elected members and the clerk.
“The panel believes that unless constructive action is taken, complaints are likely to continue to be made.”