Thursday, October 18, 2012

Councillor guilty of bullying female colleague

Councillor guilty of bullying female colleague
Last updated at 15:41, Monday, 15 October 2012
THE political career of a leading Tynedale councillor appears in ruins after he humiliated and intimidated a female colleague.
Bullying victim: Anne Dale  was the target of an unreasonable and unjustified personal attack by Ian Hutchinson (right).
A council watchdog found the behaviour of Coun. Ian Hutchinson, who represents Haltwhistle on Northumberland County Council, towards fellow Tory councillor Anne Dale, from Stocksfield, amounted to bullying.
Coun. Hutchinson has now resigned as chairman of the council’s west area planning committee – but only after hearing that the council’s standards committee had recommended he be sacked and retrained.
Members of the public and council officers were shocked when Coun. Hutchinson repeatedly shouted Mrs Dale down at a planning committee meeting in June last year.
She was visibly confused and upset, and took no part in further debates at the meeting.
In a damning verdict, an all-party council standards committee found that Coun. Hutchinson had raised his voice in an aggressive and intimidatory manner, with the intention of demeaning Coun. Mrs Dale when she tried to ask questions on two planning applications.
The report said: “Coun. Hutchinson’s behaviour towards Coun. Mrs Dale at the meeting on June 15 was an unreasonable and excessive personal attack on her, for which he had no justification and which went beyond the concept of firm chairing.
“The attack was carried out in a public meeting when members would be expected to be acutely aware of the need for them to behave responsibly and respectfully.
“Coun. Hutchinson demonstrated a lack of respect not only in the relation to the content of his exchanges with Coun. Mrs Dale but also in relation to the tone and volume of his voice, which was aggressive and too loud to be justifiable in the prevailing circumstances.”
The committee also found that Coun. Hutchinson had behaved unreasonably by losing his temper and shouting at Mrs Dale at a planning site investigation in 2009.
He compounded his poor behaviour by sending an email to a council officer containing a further “unreasonable and personal attack” on Mrs Dale.
The committee found there was nothing in the way that Mrs Dale conducted herself at the meeting that justified Coun. Hutchinson’s treatment of her.
The committee recommended that Coun. Hutchinson be removed from the chairmanship of the west area planning committee for the remainder of the council’s term of office, which ends next April.
However, on Wednesday, Coun. Hutchinson jumped before he was pushed by resigning as committee chairman.
Ironically, the ramifications of the row could have been kept out of the public eye, as Mrs Dale originally only complained to the Conservative group.
However, while accepting that Coun. Hutchinson had been “too robust” at the June planning committee, the group found there was no evidence of persistent bullying or intimidation.
Conservative group leader Coun. Peter Jackson ruled no further action should be taken – and only then did Mrs Dale decided to take the matter to the council’s own watchdog, the standards committee.
The standards hearing was the latest stage of a damaging rift between Mrs Dale and the Hexham Constituency Conservative Association.
Last year, she was dropped as a potential candidate by the Tories for next year’s county elections – despite the fact she has the biggest majority of any councillor in the district.
Although she refuses to publicly commit herself, it is thought likely she will stand as an independent against the official Tory candidate – and her huge personal vote could well see her win the seat.
Mrs Dale has always been seen as one of the more industrious Tory councillors, both on the former Tynedale Council – to which she was elected in 1995 – and on the unitary county council, of which she was a founder member.
She said this week that was “saddened” that the complaint had not been settled within the Tory group.
In a statement afterwards, she said: “Coun. Hutchinson treated me in an unacceptable manner in a public forum.
“I welcome the findings and the thoroughness and impartiality in which this matter has been dealt with.
“I will always work for and support the rights of the electorate.
A statement on behalf of the Conservative group said Coun. Hutchinson had decided to resign as chairman of the west planning committee, as he felt continuing in the role of chairman would distract from the important work of the committee.
The statement went on: “This unfortunate issue has been the result of a long running dispute between two individuals.
“It has been dealt with by cross-party committee and is not a party political matter.
“Coun. Hutchinson and Mrs Dale remain Conservative councillors and will continue their important work in support of constituents.”
Coun. Hutchinson himself declined to comment, other than to say: “I cannot believe the committee’s verdict.”
First published at 09:09, Monday, 15 October 2012
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