“It’s ridiculous - it’s all petty stuff. People need to learn to respect each other.”
That was the verdict of former Mayor of Peterborough Keith Sharp - who is stepping down as a Peterborough city councillor after 22 years - on some of the recent bad blood between elected members during debates in the Town Hall.
But despite calls for an improvement in behaviour the Peterborough Telegraph can reveal that a number of formal complaints have been made to the council about councillors (many from fellow councillors) prompting apologies and even an investigation into alleged wrongdoing.
Four complaints have been made about Conservative cabinet member Cllr David Seaton, the man in charge of the council’s finances.
Two of those complaints came during the last Full Council meeting on March 7 which descended into an acrimonious debate between members of several parties.
One of the complaints was made by Cllr Richard Ferris (Labour), who accused Cllr Seaton of a rude gesture towards him. Another was raised by Cllr Julia Davidson (independent) about Cllr Seaton’s behaviour.
Both have now been resolved informally, according to the council.
The other two complaints about Cllr Seaton have been made regarding social media comments. One of the complaints is still outstanding. The other, made by a candidate in the local elections, was received by the council’s monitoring officer who “decided to take no further action as it was found he was not acting in his official capacity as a councillor at the time and therefore not subject to the councillor code of conduct,” according to a council spokesperson.
Liberal Party member for Dogsthorpe Cllr Bella Saltmarsh said she had also raised concerns in meetings of council group leaders about the language Cllr Seaton, and other councillors, have used.
In January 2017 Cllr Seaton apologised to Cllr Darren Fower (independent) who had accused him of directing the words “depressive” then a swear word at him.
Cllr Seaton said: “I believe councillors must speak up and be honest. I have a great relationship with 90 per cent but members know I will challenge if they mislead on important issues. For example, where a member has been present at five annual debates about a policy in Full Council but then tries to deny publicly that they have ever been told about it by officers, or where an ‘alternative budget’ is announced in the media but what is presented to Full Council bears no relation to it.
“I make no apologies for responding robustly to such falsehoods and attempts to mislead. Indeed, I believe all councillors have a responsibility to call out such issues.”
Moreover, Cllr Seaton has also put in a complaint against Labour group leader Cllr Ed Murphy relating to Facebook posts. The complaint includes allegations that Cllr Murphy has made two “unfounded accusations” against Cllr Seaton and made an inference that Cllr Seaton is being investigated for something.
Cllr Murphy said he cannot comment on the complaint against him as it is being resolved, but he added: “I and others are concerned that the administration are not dealing with the behaviour of some councillors but seem to be sweeping it under the carpet.”
Council leader Cllr John Holdich, asked for his response to Cllr Murphy’s comments, said they were “a joke” and could not be further from the truth.
Cllr Holdich, who promised tough action against poor behaviour following last month’s Full Council, confirmed he had spoken to Cllr Seaton about the complaints against him.
He said: “He assures me it won’t happen again. In politics people get passionate.”
Complaints have also been made by Cllr Holdich, and Mayor of Peterborough Cllr John Fox, about independent member Cllr Darren Fower.
The complaints relate to an alleged misuse of personal data and a comment made by Cllr Fower.
Cllr Holdich accused Cllr Fower of significantly altering the wording of a petition which he sent in letters to both Cllr Holdich and council chief executive Gillian Beasley. He also alleged the letters contained the names and addresses of people who had not given permission for their details to be disclosed. The petition was said to be against the closure of the public gallery in the Town Hall.
The comment was included in a letter to the Peterborough Telegraph, which was also about the public gallery being closed. Cllr Fower wrote: “WE should not be barred and such fascists tendencies NEED to end NOW!”
The public gallery was shut by Cllr Fox for safety reasons after police advice. The complaint is now being independently investigated.