A York city councillor has broken the council’s code of conduct by failing to respect members of a town council, a panel has found.
Cllr Ian Cuthbertson shouted and spoke over the chair of a Haxby Town Council committee in August 2021 after a row about funding for a local play area.
But the joint standards panel did not find that Cllr Cuthbertson’s actions amounted to bullying or intimidating behaviour.
Former town council chairman Cllr Mark Guilford, who claimed he was the target of a sustained campaign by the three Liberal Democrat Haxby and Wiggington city councillors designed to undermine his position, brought the complaint against Cllr Cuthbertson.
Cllr Guilford, who said the problems began when he became chairman, told the standards hearing: “I had to deal with a rather insulting group of ward councillors and this developed factions within Haxby Town Council which made it virtually impossible to run orderly meetings.
“It was debilitating, emotionally and physically exhausting for most of the time.”
Issues came to a head during meetings about the town council accepting a grant to spend on a local play area.
Cllr Cuthbertson was alleged to have “erupted in a fit of anger” because he was not allowed to speak at the point he wanted to.
City councillors had launched a petition urging the town council to accept the grant. The money was accepted, but Cllr Guilford said the Liberal Democrats were using the issue for their own political ends.
“He came to that council meeting to denigrate the town council and make it seem as if it hadn’t been for Ian Cuthbertson riding over the hilltop, the children of Haxby would have suffered because we wouldn’t have got the play equipment,” he added.
Cllr Cuthbertson denied having become angry, but said he did have concerns about the way the town council was being run.
The panel said that Cllr Cuthbertson’s hearing problems and his illness at the time were mitigating factors and chose not to impose any sanctions on him.
Cllr Guilford also lodged a complaint about city councillor Ed Pearson, who is also a member of the town council.
Independent investigator Stephen Pearson, of Freeths Solicitors, said in his report that Cllr Pearson failed to treat Cllr Guilford and other town council members with respect, and that he used his influence to try to obtain a committee place on the town council for his mother, Ruth Pearson.
But the standards hearing panel said there was insufficient evidence to prove the issue around repect and that, because the complaint was submitted before Ruth Pearson was elected in November 2021, the complaint was out of scope.
But had the complaint been in scope, it would have been a serious breach of the code of conduct, the panel said.
Cllr Pearson described the complaint against him as “malicious” and said Mr Pearson’s report was “misinformed and factually incorrect”.
Neither councillor attended their hearings – Cllr Cuthbertson because of a “lengthy dentist’s appointment” and Cllr Pearson due to work commitments.
Stephen Pearson expressed disappointment at the level of engagement with the complaints process from both councillors.
A separate complaint against fellow Haxby and Wiggington councillor Andrew Hollyer was dismissed at an earlier stage.
In a statement after the standards meetings, Cllr Hollyer said Cllr Guilford, a Conservative, had been making “politically motivated complaints”.
He added: “We are puzzled by the committee’s decision to find that Cllr Ian Cuthbertson was disrespectful to the chair of a Haxby Town Council committee. As explained to the investigator, Ian was recovering from cancer at the time, and could neither hear nor speak very well.
“If he raised his voice, it was to attempt to overcome the brass band playing in the next room. However, as the committee recommended no further action taken, we consider the matter closed.”
He added: “Whilst there are concerns over how Haxby Town Council operates, as local ward councillors we have sought to work with the members of Haxby Town Council to support the local community and we will continue to do so for the benefit of our residents.”