I have been taking advice on how to respond to the statement by Mr Sneddon which I published here. What follows went today to all councillors, the press and Michael Russell MSP.
The statement read out by Mr Sneddon at the meeting of Argyll & Bute Council on 24 November 2016 cannot be left unchallenged. I have been taking advice on it hence the delay in replying.
It appears this statement was made on behalf of the 4 complainants and was not just the personal views of Mr Sneddon. That wasn’t clear on the day.
It is clear that normal democratic and accountable practice should have ensured that the statement was provided to me first, in advance of the meeting, as a courtesy. It should also have been given to all councillors on the day and not several days later. Had that been done, the statement would have been open to questions at the meeting by councillors. None of these things happened.
A copy was only made available some 4 days after that meeting. It is not certain, therefore, that this is the exact text as delivered.
Given the above, let me now address the detail of the written version of his statement.
The statement said that officers are “precluded from publicly criticising elected members” but the statement contained strong criticism of me. The rest of his statement, therefore, made a nonsense of that assertion.
His statement made no mention of the fact that the complaint had 15 elements to it and that the Commissioner dismissed 9 of these while determining that there were 6 breaches. However, all but one of these, the most minor and open to all sorts of challenge, were subsequently dismissed by the Standards Commission.
His statement, therefore, completely ignored the fact that all 14 allegations of disrespect against him and his fellow complainants were dismissed as, of course, were the 15 allegations in the earlier complaint against me to the Standards Commissioner by Cllrs Walsh, E Morton and Scoullar.
Mr Sneddon’s statement asserts that the complaint that led to the hearing had no connection to that first complaint by Cllrs Walsh, E Morton and Scoullar.
That assertion is factually untrue. All of the first complaint was about Rothesay Harbour and a very large part of the second complaint was about the same topic. In addition, Cllr Walsh, one of the complainants in the first complaint was interviewed for the 2nd complaint.
There are, therefore, 2 clear connections between the 2 complaints.
In addition, during a very helpful meeting last week with the Standards Commissioner, he stated that in his view the 2 complaints were linked.
Mr Sneddon’s statement repeatedly mentioned “behaviours” in a derogatory manner but omitted to state that none of those “behaviours” was found to be in breach of the code. It was, therefore, not only inappropriate but factually wrong to refer to “behaviours” in this way.
Unless, of course, Mr Sneddon is indicating that he refuses to accept the findings. If that is the case, he needs to formally record these views with the Standards Commissioners.
His statement referred to “threatening and intimidatory behaviours” and Mr Sneddon has subsequently confirmed that he felt threatened and intimidated by me. However, none of these words, nor variants of them, was used in the complaint against me. It is, therefore, inappropriate and wholly unacceptable for them to be introduced at this stage after the complaint has been decided, massively in my favour it has to be said.
I don’t think there was anything remotely threatening or intimidatory in anything I said or wrote. All of the material in this case has been published and a check of that will bear this out. In addition, Mr Sneddon’s statement referred to “personal attacks”. There was no finding by the Commission that there were “personal attacks” so why is this unfounded allegation being made now?
His statement referred to “many attempts” to improve working relationships but as far as I recall there might only have been one such attempt, and that appeared to me and to others as more of an attempt to shut me up.
His statement gave an inaccurate account of the attempts by me to resolve matters by way of reciprocal and caveated apologies before the hearing.
In reality, there were 3 such attempts, all initiated by me with the first one being via the Commissioner. Mr Sneddon at no point initiated any attempt to settle the matter nor did Messrs Loudon, Milne and Hendry. The 4th attempt was sanctioned by me and was made by the Deputy Commissioner.
All four attempts were rejected by the officers involved. I remain of the view that it was the behaviours of officers, not my behaviours, that caused the breakdown in relationships.
In addition, the officers ignored the constitution of the council before they made their complaint. They also appear to have completely ignored Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, something the UK Ministry of Justice said had to be factored into their “day to day” work.
Even though the council constitution is flawed, they ignored the spirit of it and we still do not know if they submitted their complaint on behalf of the council or as private individuals. If the former, who sanctioned this? The many questions asked of them remain unanswered.
Accordingly I intend to let councillors and the public have access to further details on these matters by referring to and publishing material from the complaint and the hearing.
I am, in so doing, merely asking for an accurate and fair conclusion to these matters, which the statement from the chief executive does not provide.
I remain willing to agree with the chief executive on an accurate and fair concluding statement at any time.
That statement must acknowledge the basic truth of this matter which is that, after two plus years, and the determined efforts of three senior councillors and four senior officials, the Standards Commission found massively and conclusively in my favour.
Cllr Michael Breslin, 12 December 2016