Video: York councillor prevented from asking question about the huge pay-off to the former council chief

22 Dec 2020 @ 5.53 pm
| News

A question to the deputy leader of City of York Council about how his party’s involvement in departure of the former chief executive has been deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the council’s top legal officer.

The judgement has been described as baffling by Labour councillors who, given that this information is already in the public domain, have labelled it a disservice to democracy at the Council.

The question was put to Andy D’Agorne by Heworth ward councillor Claire Douglas during a meeting of Full Council. It related to the decision of councillors Keith Aspden, Anne Hook and Andy D’agorne to award a payoff of over £400k to Mary Weastell to ‘retire early’.

This came after she became too ill to work within weeks of Councillor Aspden taking over as council leader last year.

Councillor Douglas asked: “With regard to the administration’s boot-out-the-door bumper payoff to the former chief executive, can the deputy leader explain how the Green Party’s principles got so compromised that it became involved in such a scandal?”

‘Shameful debacle’

The exchange starts 3 hrs 29mins in

Called to intervene by Lib Dem Councillor Nigel Ayre, the council’s monitoring officer ruled the question “inappropriate”.

Holgate Ward Councillor Kallum Taylor challenged this ruling in the meeting and said: “Just because the monitoring officer thinks it’s inappropriate, does that mean, if we want to, we can still take the ‘risk’ and ask these important questions, rather than carrying on to brush it under the carpet?”

After the meeting he added: “We were not surprised to see the Lib Dems try to silence discussion of an awkward, embarrassing, and shameful debacle for them – but there is nothing about this issue that would be compromised by the Green Party Leader explaining how he, too, felt able to vote for this massive pay-out of public money.

“This is a huge matter of public interest and a valid question for our city’s ruling councillors to respond to.

“To see the question shut down in this way at the advice of the council’s monitoring officer, after she was asked to step-in by the Lib Dems, is baffling to say the least.”

York council’s last chief executive, Mary Weastell

Mary Weastell had previously facilitated an investigation into Councillor Aspden’s conduct in 2017 after a complaint was made, resulting in him being found in breach of the code of conduct for openly discussing confidential job applicant information in a meeting with external party colleagues in a pub.

Councillor Aspden has repeatedly claimed to have followed legal advice at all times throughout.

Yet a recent FOI request regarding his potential conflict of interest in the pay-out found that the council could provide no written evidence of any advice being given – only that he had simply been referred to the Councillor’s Code of Conduct.

Labour Leader Councillor Myers will be writing to the council’s monitoring officer to seek an explanation for her advice to shut down discussion of the issue.

Janie Berry, the council’s director of governance & monitoring officer, said: “Until the Audit and Governance Committee’s work is concluded it would be inappropriate to comment.”