COUNCILLORS have been warned over their ‘unacceptable behaviour’ after a war broke out on social media this week.
After town clerk John Wright warned councillors that personal disputes were bringing the council into disrepute, the mayor, Councillor Michaela Ellis, was forced to write to all members warning them about their behaviour on social media and asking them to “respect each other”.
Mr Wright, in a report to councillors, said personal conflicts between members was damaging the council’s reputation.
After Wednesday’s meeting when a number of allegations were made against Councillor Cheryl Reynolds, her brother, Daryl Turner, district and county councillor for Lyme Regis, posted on Facebook that it was the most “explosive” council meeting he had ever attended, adding: “If this does not get into the national papers, I don’t know what will.”
Councillor Reynold’s other brother, Virgil Turner, station commander at Lyme Regis Fire Station, used the pubic forum to draw attention to an allegation by his sister that he planted drugs that were found by his son in the Anning Road playing field to strengthen the case for the removal of the teen shelter.
The council had previously agreed to remove the shelter after reports of anti-social behaviour and drug use.
Councillor Reynolds raised a rescinding motion signed by the required six members, to leave the shelter in place. However, she withdrew that motion before it was put to the council claiming it was “in the best interest” of Lyme Regis council.
Virgil Turner also said that town and district Councillor Reynolds, recently appointed civilian administrator of the newly-formed Lyme Regis Army Cadet Force, used the racist n-word at a public meeting in April and expressed concern about her representing people of all ages and ethnic minorities.
In his three-minute statement at Wednesday’s meeting, Virgil Turner also claimed he had written proof, signed by two councillors, that Councillor Reynolds had claimed in a conversation at a recent planning meeting that “she would not be surprised if Virgil had planted the drugs”. This newspaper believes the two councillors alleged to have signed the document were Patrick Ridley and John Broom, who were both present at Wednesday’s meeting.
Councillor Reynolds, who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting because she has undergone a cataract operation, has strongly denied the allegation that she accused her brother of planting the drugs.
Councillor Reynolds admitted using unacceptable language at a previous meeting and apologised to councillors in a personal letter.
The row on social media emerged after Councillor Jeff Scowen claimed he had been barred from attending a meeting to discuss the ‘Pages of The Sea’ initiative taking place on Lyme Regis beach on Armistice Day (November 11) and resigned from the public relations meeting co-ordinated by the town clerk every Monday morning.
He later set up his own Facebook page, called ‘Pride of Lyme’ to promote all the positive aspects about the town, but which he used to express his own strong views about the running of the council.
When he received criticism of this, he retorted by saying: “Perhaps I should resign.”
‘Work together to improve relationships’
Following Wednesday’s meeting, the mayor issued the following statement to this newspaper: “I am taking recent exchanges between members very seriously.
“I have written to each council member reminding them of their duties as councillor and the standards expected of them. I have also reminded the councillors of the importance of the council’s Code of Conduct and the appropriate use of social media.
“I am meeting with the committee chairmen to discuss how we can work together to improve relationships within the council.”
The warning to councillors from town clerk John Wright came at a meeting of the Strategy and Finance Committee during his annual report on internal control and risk management.
In that report he said: “The attitude of the organisation [the council] improved significantly in 2015.
“However, over the last two years there has been a deterioration. Most noticeably, personal conflict between some members transgresses policy differences and has become evident in council chamber debate. Inevitably, these actions impair good decision making and damage the council’s image and reputation.”
He also stated that member-officer relations had also improved in recent years but there been some deterioration recently.
Councillor Scowen asked what this deterioration was down to, as he thought it was “disturbing”.
Mr Wright replied that there had been occasions when officers were blamed for delivering council policy and comments made about officers at meetings were not appropriate.
Councillor Scowen said: “Perhaps some councillors see it differently. Perhaps we would put it [the blame] on you.”
In his report, Mr Wright claimed members had made decisions without considering the implications but Councillor Derek Hallett thought this was “stretching it a bit”.
Councillor Scowen said the report came across as “member bashing”.
The mayor also issued a statement regarding issues surrounding Councillor Reynolds.
She said: “I can confirm Councillor Cheryl Reynolds used the ‘n’ word during a meeting of the full council on 4 April 2018. The ‘n’ word was referred to in the context of a formerly-used common phrase.
“Councillor Reynolds issued a written apology to her fellow councillors the following morning; she also contacted members of the public who were present at the meeting to apologise.
“There was no attempt to ‘cover up’ this issue, as has been suggested. Myself and the town clerk discussed the matter with Councillor Reynolds; she fully understood the seriousness of her comments and was remorseful and apologetic.
“No councillors or members of the public followed this issue up, or, as far as I’m aware, reported it to the monitoring officer “A complaint has now been made to the council regarding Councillor Reynolds’ conduct and this will be investigated.”