Woodbridge council heads disciplined for leaking information

Councillors Eamonn O'Nolan and Patrick Gillard stood with one of the incorrect signs Picture: EAMONN

Councillors Eamonn O'Nolan and Patrick Gillard stood with one of the incorrect signs Picture: EAMONN O'NOLAN - Credit: Archant

Two Woodbridge councillors who are set to serve as the town’s mayor this year have been disciplined after an investigation found them guilty of having leaked confidential information to the press.

The councillors, new mayor Eamonn O' Nolan and Patrick Gillard, who is to take over the role later this year, were reported to the then Suffolk Coastal District Council for a number of offences, including leaking information and accusations of bullying.

The district council held a special audit and governance committee meeting earlier this year to discuss the case.

The meeting focused on two areas: whether the two councillors had been engaged in bullying and whether they had leaked confidential information.

The leak referred to concerns over the council's contract for the supply of signage in the town which the councillors had passed to the press.

The district council upheld this complaint, considering that the leaking of the information had put the council in a difficult position when it came to making negotiations with the contractor as the issue was still "being actively negotiated" in June 2018.

The councillors were cleared on counts of bullying.

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The report noted comments from the former secretary to the town clerk that "although the atmosphere at Woodbridge Town Council for the last 1-2 years had been toxic, she could not ascribe this to any two councillors".

At the end of the meeting Suffolk Coastal resolved that the town council consider three recommendations in regard to disciplining the two councillors as soon as possible.

Discussions on the issue of discipline took place at Woodbridge Town Council's annual general meeting.

Hilary Slater, monitoring officer at East Suffolk Council and Geoff Lynch, chair of the audit and governance committee at East Suffolk, joined town councillors to discuss their options.

They were recommended to make the pair send a formal letter of apology to the council, issue a motion of censure and send them on a training course about the Suffolk Code of Conduct.

In the end the council decided to only send the councillors on the training course.

Former town mayor and councillor David Mortimer accused the new council of "sweeping it under the carpet" by issuing a lenient punishment.

Both Mr O'Nolan and Mr Gillard have responded to the resolutions.

Mr O'Nolan said: "I do of course regret having to resort to the press to air issues which the council should have been able to resolve in-house.

"But I felt strongly that the council should not unnecessarily conceal embarrassing events: the same enquiry which found me in breach of confidentiality on one issue also found that the Council should not have been holding meetings behind closed doors."

Mr Gillard added:"It's been a difficult year, but the great thing is that Woodbridge is really engaged now. We have eight brand-new councillors and lots of enthusiasm.

"Councillor O'Nolan and I understood that going to the press could cause these problems for us, but we both felt that bigger problems would be caused by covering things up.

"There's a big difference between confidentiality and secrecy. Secrecy just puts people off local democracy and we really want Woodbridge to know that it is their council, not ours."

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