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District censures councillor after upholding complaints from senior officers and other councillors

Maldon District Council has warned a councillor who said he wanted to wear its censure letter to him as a hat.

Independent Chrisy Morris’ conduct was investigated at the council’s request by external investigators who included Matt Lewin, a member of Cornerstone Barristers' public law team.

Maldon's joint standards committee upheld six complaints of bullying against Cllr Morris, who was also found to have deliberately attempted to undermine the Code of Conduct process, bringing his authority into disrepute.

Four complaints were submitted by other councillors and two by the council's corporate leadership team.

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Mr Lewin said the allegations included that Cllr Morris disrupted a Planning Committee meeting by repeatedly shouting over the chair and calling her ‘Cruella’ and that he called a councillor ‘old” and ‘past his best" during a meeting.

He was also alleged to have persistently singled out an officer for criticism with aggressive and intimidating behaviour.

In another incident, Cllr Morris was alleged to have taunted an officer at a meeting while filming the encounter and subsequently publishing it on Facebook, after which he ‘liked’ a comment which described the officer as the "worst kind off [sic] human filth we have in our society”.

Mr Lewin said during one of the investigations, Cllr Morris made repeated attempts to undermine and publicly discredit the process including by livestreaming his investigation interview on Facebook Live – which resulted in the council having to report a personal data breach to the Information Commissioner.

The committee upheld all six complaints, and found that Cllr Morris' behaviour during the investigation process showed contempt for the Nolan principles of accountability and integrity and also brought his office and authority into disrepute.

A letter from Emma Holmes, deputy monitoring officer, to Cllr Morris informing him of the committee’s decisions noted: “:The Joint Standards Committee also wished to place on record our concern that your response to the letter was to want to receive this letter of censure, so you can wear it as a hat.

“It is very disappointing that you continue to fail to understand the impact that your words have on people who cannot answer back.”

The letter noted: “You are of course perfectly entitled to criticise officers and members. Indeed, it is part of your job. The problem – and it is a very serious problem – is that councillors are the employer of officers and any criticism must be raised appropriately via an appropriate channel.”

Maldon is yet to publish the exact penalties imposed on Cllr Morris, who has been contacted for comment.

Mark Smulian

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