An outspoken Waverley councillor was heard to accuse the council’s chief executive of talking “b*******” when he forgot to turn off his mic on Zoom.
Opposition member Jerry Hyman told the boss “Don’t b******* me” in a meeting attended by 30 councillors and officers last August.
He was brought in front of the standards panel for nearly three hours (June 28) and found to have breached the code of conduct.
The Farnham Residents councillor said he regretted the words but said council was “picking on him” because he had long tried to “fight for candour”.
He said: “It’s about whether people are allowed to tell untruths without any sort of recourse and if someone is wound up enough to be rude about it, or accidentally leaves their Zoom mic on – which we’ve all done at some point – then you’re allowed to get away with the untruths and the person gets dragged through a system at great expense for many months.”
He asked for the standards panel to be chaired by someone who was “not a Tory party whip” and when chairman Michael Goodridge told him no, “This is not political”, he said: “I might as well go home now then I think”.
Cllr Hyman said that in a discussion about whether or not working from home had been debated by councillors, he was “goaded” by the chief exec “misleading members”.
“I think you’re on very dangerous territory,” said Cllr Goodridge.
Tom Horwood, who was not present on Tuesday, heads up Guildford and Waverley borough councils combined on a £150,000 salary.
External investigator Richard Lingard said Cllr Hyman’s “pub language” in the informal briefing was “not desperately offensive, but inappropriate and disrespectful”.
He said he had failed to engage with the investigative process, to which Cllr Hyman said he “didn’t want to have another heart attack”, having suffered a major heart attack and undergone emergency surgery at Frimely Park Hospital the day after a council meeting in 2017.
He asked the investigator: “Do you accept that honesty comes before this question of politeness?
“If you’re not complying with honesty, that’s the person who is in the wrong, not the person that’s complaining about it.”
He asked the chair: “What language would be appropriate in the circumstances where the chief executive is dissembling?
“I was the only person in that meeting who was actually abiding by our duty under the Nolan principles of challenging poor behaviour. And I’m the whistleblower who gets picked on.
“We can’t get a straight answer to a straight question in this council.”
Monitoring officer Robin Taylor said: “He is entitled to challenge, he is entitled to constructively criticise; what he’s not entitled to do is to have poor conduct when he’s doing so.
“It is not the case that the chief executive was telling untruths and I want to put it on record that the chief executive dealt fairly, calmly and professionally with the interruption.”
The complaint against Cllr Hyman was brought by Liberal Democrat councillor John Robini.
Cllr Hyman apologised in the meeting at the time, but according to Mr Taylor this was only for his mistake of being unmuted.
Cllr Hyman said he’d also apologised later in the meeting for the words he used; this was contested by Mr Taylor.
As the meeting was not held in public, the council did not record it.
The monitoring officer said it was not the first time he had spoken to Cllr Hyman, who was also found to breach the code of conduct in 2019.
This was for accusing council officers of “misinforming” councillors by “misquoting” the European Habitats Directive in planning committee meetings in 2016 and 2017.
Cllr Hyman said holding the panel hearing was a “complete waste of public funds” and asked how much it cost – but was not given an answer.
“I just want to apologise to the public for where this has gone to,” he said.
“I would like to apologise that I didn’t engage with it, but whenever this comes up, it does make my blood boil.”
Cllr Goodridge said the amount spent was irrelevant and “Justice has got to be done and seen to be done regardless of cost.”
The panel, also made up of councillors Maxine Gale (Independent) and Peter Marriott (Farnham Residents), decided not to take any action for the breach, other than publish their findings and report them to the council.
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