Councillor – Misconduct relating to a planning application and disrespect towards the public

Decision issued:
Complaint type: Disrespect
Code section: 7 Taking Decisions on Quasi-Judicial or Regulatory Applications
Allegation: Disrespect towards employees/public

Allegation

The complainer alleged that

  • Councillor A used an expression (the ‘indigenous’ community) that implied unfairness and bias in his consideration of a planning application
  • Councillor B, when responding to correspondence from a complainer about the use of the term ‘indigenous’, had acted disrespectfully by denying that such a word had been used and in suggesting that, if it had been used, it had not been intended in the manner in which it had been interpreted by the complainer.

Evidence

The complaint related to a planning application for a marine fish farm.  The complainers believed that a reference by Councillor A, (made during a meeting to consider the application) to the absence of objections from the ‘indigenous’ community was discriminatory and implied unfairness and bias.  

The complaint also referred to the actions of Councillor B, who had chaired the meeting. It was alleged that in responding to concerns raised after the meeting about the use of the word ‘indigenous’, Councillor B had denied that the word had been used, said she had not heard it, and suggested an alternative interpretation to that of the complainers. In doing so, it was alleged that Councillor B had acted in a disrespectful and inappropriate manner.

It was established that Councillor A had used the word ‘indigenous’ during the meeting. He had done so in the context of the application - with particular reference to the local crofting community, and the apparent lack of opposition to the application from those who lived near the site of the proposed development.  

Councillor A argued that the comment reflected a factual position, and should be interpreted as a reference to the population most likely to be impacted directly by the development, as distinct from those from further afield.  

Councillor A said he had made no suggestion that additional weight be applied to his observation, nor had he made any attempt to influence his colleagues to do so. 

It was not possible to establish whether Councillor B had or had not heard Councillor A use the word ‘indigenous’.  Her expression of opinion as to the intent or motivation around the use of the term was not in itself objectionable. 

Findings

The Commissioner found that:

  • Councillor A used the word ‘indigenous’ during consideration of the planning application
  • the word ‘indigenous’ was used in conjunction with a reference to the local crofting community, and in the context of a comment about the apparent lack of opposition to the proposal from those who lived near the site of the proposed development, and therefore 
  • in the circumstances of the case, the use of the word ‘indigenous’ did not demonstrate bias in relation to the application

Therefore, Councillor A had not breached paragraphs 7.3 or 7.4 of the Code of Conduct.

The Commissioner also found that:

  • Councillor B’s comments in relation to the use of the word ‘indigenous’ did not amount to disrespect
  • the correspondence did not form part of the decision-making process to which section 7 of the Code is directed.

Therefore, Councillor B had not breached paragraphs 3.1, 3.2, 7.3 or 7.4 of the Code of Conduct.

 

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