City of York Labour have challenged a ruling that a question to the Deputy Leader of City of York Council, the Green Party’s Councillor Andy D’agorne, was deemed “inappropriate”. The question was about how his party became embroiled in the waste of public money to remove the former chief executive from her post.
The judgement has been described as baffling by Labour councillors who, given that this information is already in the public domain, have labelled it a disservice to democracy at the Council.
The question, put by Heworth Ward Councillor Claire Douglas during last week’s meeting of Full Council, related to the decision of Councillors Keith Aspden, Anne Hook and Andy D’agorne to award a payoff of over £400k to Mary Weastell to retire early. This came after she became too ill to work within weeks of Cllr Aspden taking over as council leader last year. Cllr Douglas asked:
“With regard to the administration’s boot-out-the-door bumper payoff to the former Chief Executive, can the Deputy Leader explain how the Green Party’s principles got so compromised that it became involved in such a scandal?”
This was viewed by the Council’s Monitoring Officer, who did not intervene until asked to do so by LibDem Councillor Nigel Ayre, as being “inappropriate”.
Holgate Ward Councillor Kallum Taylor challenged this ruling in the meeting and said:
“Just because the Monitoring Officer thinks it’s inappropriate, does that mean, if we want to, we can still take the risk and ask these important questions, rather than carrying on to brush it under the carpet?”
After the meeting he added: “We were not surprised to see the LibDems try to silence discussion of an awkward, embarrassing, and shameful debacle for them – but there is nothing about this issue that would be compromised by the Green Party Leader explaining how he, too, felt able to vote for this massive pay-out of public money.
“This is a huge matter of public interest and a valid question for our city’s ruling councillors to respond to. To see the question shut down in this way at the advice of the council’s Monitoring Officer, after she was asked to step-in by the LibDems, is baffling to say the least.”
The Labour Group say they believe Cllr Aspden refused to work with Ms Weastell on becoming leader, resulting in her bringing a case of constructive dismissal against the council and him personally.
Ms Weastell had previously facilitated an investigation into Councillor Aspden’s conduct in 2017 after a complaint was made, resulting in him being found in breach of the code of conduct for openly discussing confidential job applicant information in a meeting with external party colleagues in a pub.
Cllr Aspden has repeatedly claimed to have followed legal advice at all times throughout, yet a recent FOI request regarding his potential conflict of interest in the pay-out found that the Council could provide no written evidence of any advice being given – only that he had simply been referred to the Councillor’s Code of Conduct.
The Code of Conduct states that if any member of the public could reasonably presume a councillor has a conflict of interest in a decision, then they should not take part in it. Cllr Aspden failed to declare that Mary Weastell had named him in an employment tribunal case against the council when taking part in the decision to award her the £400k pay off.
Labour Group leader, Councillor Danny Myers has written to the council’s Monitoring Officer to seek an explanation for her advice to shut down discussion of the issue.