Councillor ‘did breach rules’ says Rother

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Rother has hit back at claims it ‘hounded’ a parish councillor and wasted resources through an investigation into a complaint against three Winchelsea ward members of Icklesham Parish Council.

On appeal, a tribunal judge subsequently overturned a decision by Rother’s standards committee that Councillors Richard Comotto, Ben Chiswick and Mike Terry had brought their roles into disrepute after criticising Icklesham Parish Council’s Local Action Plan and encouraging residents to boycott a questionnaire.

But Rother is enraged that Cllr Comotto, who attacked the authority in last week’s Observer, failed to mention the same hearing upheld their decision he had individually breached two other council rules.

The judge agreed with the council that Cllr Comotto had broken the code of conduct by not declaring a prejudicial interest at a meeting of Icklesham Parish Council when the subject of the Winchelsea Community Office was discussed – a body he was involved with and had previously declared on his register of interests.

He had also been found by investigators to have broken rules by ‘attempting to use his position to improperly advantage or disadvantage himself or another person’ in relation to proposed legal action against the Winchelsea Community Office. Again, this was upheld at the appeal hearing.

The support of these findings is under a section titled ‘breach by Councillor Comotto’ in the document published by the tribunal.

Rother District Council leader Cllr Carl Maynard says it is Rother that should feel vindicated, not Cllr Comotto, given that he twice broke the code of conduct.

Cllr Maynard said: “We accept the appeal ruling that these three councillors did not bring their office into disrepute through their actions and will abide by it.

“However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact the investigation found two other breaches of the councillors code of conduct by Cllr Comotto individually - decisions the judge agreed with after hearing this appeal. So for him to comment at length in the Observer that he has been totally vindicated and accuse Rother of wasting resources seems perverse in the extreme.

“Given a judge has confirmed he is guilty of breaking council rules, I would think Cllr Comotto would be more inclined to keep a low profile than to shout from the rooftops.”

Cllr Maynard went on to say Rother District Council has a duty to thoroughly investigate complaints made against district and parish councillors in line with national procedures and it is inevitable this will incur a cost.

He added: “I don’t think the act of investigating whether or not a councillor is breaching the code of conduct can be considered a waste of time and money. It is important these things are taken seriously, as we want people to trust their councillors will act in a proper manner.

“Even though the tribunal did not agree with our sanction and decided no further action should be taken, it still remains the case Cllr Comotto was in breach of the code. It should act as a warning that we take any complaints made against parish or district councillors very seriously and our independent committee will investigate thoroughly if they consider it necessary – whether the councillor in question agrees with it or not.”