Convicted councillor Andrew Williams will not sit on the Finance and General Purposed committee this term after the council upheld their change to standing orders.
At a meeting on June 29, Coun Mick Stanley (Cons) presented a motion ‘that no elected member may sit on the Finance and General Purposes Committee if in possession of a criminal record until such times as the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in their individual case be spent’.
Despite the motion being passed, the council decided to seek legal advice to ensure they acted correctly.
During another tense meeting on Monday, September 7, the council eventually voted that, while Coun Williams would still represent Moorside on the committee, the resolution would stand with a substitute free to be appointed, with eight votes for and two abstentions.
Coun Williams (Ind) did not attend the meeting on Monday but did present a letter to the council stating he had been advised by the solicitor not to do so.
In the letter he said: “She has clearly advised the council that it exceeded its remit of corporate power passing the proposal from Coun Stanley on June 29.
“The advice is quite clear and I am protecting my own legal position by not attending the meeting this evening.”
As a result, fellow Independent councillor Peter Horton claimed that the resolution could be challenged in terms of reasonableness.
He said: “It goes beyond the issue of qualification for office and would appear to be aimed at a particular member which of course it is.
“We are told this is not the purpose of corporate council resolutions, the council needs to safeguard its funds at all times.
“Therefore, the possible costs of legal challenges which may follow from individual members, I now propose the resolution be rescinded and struck from the record.”
However, Coun Stanley challenged this claim, labelling it a ‘bloody disgrace’, arguing that the council had acted ‘legally and within its remit’, meaning it should stand alongside all other orders passed by a majority vote.
The council clerk, Ruth Pearson, informed Coun Horton that the motion could not be rescinded without seven signatures within six months before Conservative councillor Peter Pearson argued that the resolution should stand.
He said: “The point made by Coun Williams in his letter is that the council has exceeded its remit.
It does not, the council has not exceeded its remit, and the legal officer does not go as far as to say that.
“What we are faced with is it reasonable for a council to say whether someone with an unspent conviction should be prevented from sitting on a finance committee?
“We are talking about a conviction for dishonesty which affects the finance committee, compounded by the fact that this dishonesty was committed against this very council.
“I respect the divisional court would take note of the outcry within and outside the city, the reputation of the city and how it would be hindered from this whole episode.”