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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.

Earlier this month (6 September 2021) 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.”

Cllr Morris has been contacted for comment.

At the end of the 6 September meeting the Chairman read out the following, with the recommendation for the removal from committees due to be considered by Full Council on 4 November:

"Having listened to the various speakers today we unanimously agreed all the findings of the investigation reports and breaches of the code of conduct by Cllr Morris as set out in the reports and we adopt the reasoning of the investigating officers in their reports.

"In terms of sanction we are proposing to formally censure Cllr Morris and we are going to restrict access to IT and email. The restriction to IT will be so that Cllr Morris can only contact the Council and councillors via fresh service until 1 May 2022. We will write to you with the formal censure in the next few days.

"We recommend to the Council that Cllr Morris is removed from all committees, working groups or outside body for the remainder of the municipal year.

"Although we have found serious breaches of the code, we noted that Cllr Morris does not appear to realise how he comes across to others . We would therefore recommend that Cllr Morris is provided with and accepts training on conflict management and resolving disputes."

Mark Smulian

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