Councillors could be hit in the pocket, removed from committees and even banned from standing for re-election under new plans to clamp down on elected officials who step out of line.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s audit and governance committee has agreed to give all 33 councillors a say on the plans for a new protocol to deal with complaints and breaches of the authority’s code of conduct.
Under the proposals, members could be forced to withdraw from council activities while complaints were under investigation and, if found to be at fault, have to forgo their council allowances and even be disqualified from standing for re-election for an agreed time.
It comes after deputy mayor Coun Kevin Cranney asked a woman at a public meeting if he had slept with her and then allegedly threatened another councillor.
Coun Cranney admitted to the Mail asking a woman “have I slept with you?” in reaction to jeers at the end of a heated meeting over hospital services in March.
He was found to have breached the council’s code of conduct and ordered to apologise to the woman.
A second investigation concerned an exchange with Putting Hartlepool First Councillor David Riddle, in which it was claimed Coun Cranney said words to the effect of “I’ll see you later”, which Coun Riddle took to be threatening.
Peter Devlin concluded the remark was ambiguous and it was inconclusive whether Coun Cranney had breached the Code of Conduct.
There have also been a string of other investigations into councillor behaviour, with the then chief executive Dave Stubbs saying it was causing an “intolerable burdon” on the council.
Coun Jim Ainslie welcomed the plans but said it was important to establish when councillors would be covered by the code of conduct.
“I am a councillor 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
“Can I say things in the pub after six o’clock that I could not say in this room?” he asked.
Committee chairman Coun Ray Martin-Wells said a degree of common sense would be necessary from councillors themselves: “It is an extremely grey area, but you will know when you are acting as a councillor and when you are acting in a private capacity.
“When I go out with my husband for a drink I am just ‘Ray’.”
But Mr Devlin said the code recognised the difference between council activities, duties and personal time and would not apply unless members were on official duty or made a point of highlighting their council role.
The committee agreed with his recommendation to hold a seminar for all councillors on the plans.
“Members really need to be comfortable with what would be a voluntary protocol,” he said.
“It requires the understanding of all 33 councillors to work. Let’s get members together informally, let’s go through the protocol, make sure everybody is comfortable with it and move forwards.”