Investigation finds former chairman of Iron Acton Parish Council misled colleagues to help personal friend and clerk
THE former chairman of a parish council acted improperly in breach of a code of conduct.
Cllr Bob Sheppard, who was chairman of Iron Acton Parish Council for 18 years until 2011, was found to have breached the Local Authorities Code of Conduct when he sent information he knew to be incorrect to his fellow parish councillors.
Cllr Sheppard had been part of an employment sub-committee set up in 2011 to discuss and agree a formal contract for then clerk Paula Evans, who has since resigned and won an employment tribunal against the parish council.
Solicitor for South Gloucestershire Council’s legal and democratic services department, Michael Hewitt, found that at several meetings of the sub-committee it was agreed to refer the matter to full council as there was an unresolved dispute over how many hours Ms Evans should be paid to work.
Cllr Sheppard, who had admitted he was ‘too close’ a friend of the clerk to make an objective decision, wanted her hours to be set at 70 per month and her pay backdated whereas the other two councillors on the sub-committee, Cllr Peter Huish and Cllr Chris Heal, thought it should be set at 50 hours a month.
Despite the agreement to refer it to full council, following a meeting with ward councillor Howard Gawler, Cllr Sheppard issued an email to all councillors stating it had been agreed at a budget meeting, and at one of the working party meetings, that the clerk’s hours would be increased to 70 per month and backdated to April 2011.
It said: “It was agreed at the budget meeting, and at one of the working party meetings that the clerk’s hours would be increased to 70 per month and backdated to April 2011.
“The additional cost of approximately £2,800 for this financial year would be met out of reserves held by the parish council.”
Mr Hewitt said in his findings: “Cllr Sheppard knew when he made the statement that the employment sub-committee had not agreed the additional hours nor had it been agreed by that sub-committee that these would be backdated.
“Cllr Sheppard’s reference to a ‘working party’ was a deliberate attempt to rely upon and give legitimacy to his meeting with Cllr Gawler. That meeting had no legitimacy but it was referred to in order to mislead councillors into believing that it had.”
“Cllr Sheppard therefore used his position as a member of the employment sub-committee to seek to influence the parish council by making a material misstatement in order to benefit the clerk.”
Mr Hewitt’s findings were submitted to South Gloucestershire Council’s standards sub-committee which decided no further action should be taken.
Speaking to the Gazette this week, Cllr Sheppard said he believed he had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
“I accept the decision of the standards sub-committee which was that no further action should be taken,” he said. But he added: “I do not accept that I should not have sent out that email.”
Mr Hewitt also found Cllr Sheppard had been ‘inconsistent’ in his denial of the allegations but a second complaint into Cllr Sheppard’s alleged failure to disclose a personal and prejudicial interest in a planning application was not upheld. He has since stepped down as chairman but remains a parish councillor.
Iron Acton Parish Council said it was aware of the findings of the investigation and condemned any breach of the council’s code of conduct.
A parishioner, who asked not to be named, said the parish council’s response was inadequate.
“I believe that Iron Acton Parish Council would like to keep this matter quiet and when they were handed the report they have voted just to condemn the breach of standards by Mr Sheppard without making too much fuss,” he said.
“However his corruption, abuse of his position, his lies and manipulations can now be exposed. He has let himself down, let the council down and most importantly let the parishioners down.”
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