Probe launched in council questions row

OFFICIALS at an under-fire town council battling for its survival amid mounting calls for its abolition have reported one of their own colleagues to standards watchdogs - for “asking too many questions”.

OFFICIALS at an under-fire town council battling for its survival amid mounting calls for its abolition have reported one of their own colleagues to standards watchdogs - for “asking too many questions”.

David Nettleton, who serves on the fledgling Bury St Edmunds Town Council, last night vowed to continue quizzing fellow members despite the complaint, saying it was his duty to do so on behalf of taxpayers.

The pledge comes after town mayor Mike Ames and former mayor Bob Cockle made a formal complaint to the Standards Board for England.

Documents outlining the grievance allege Mr Nettleton has “followed a policy of questioning the office staff in great detail,” therefore making their work difficult.

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A further seven claims have also been made against him. These include accusations he blocked emails from council staff and brought the body into disrepute by failing to treat employees with respect.

It is also alleged that he threatened staff with disciplinary offence, where none existed and without the authority to do so.

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Other allegations made are that he undermined office staff, attempted to involve two staff members in personal disputes with other members of the council and caused distress to all staff who fear for their jobs because Mr Nettleton is promoting a vote or referendum on the town council's future.

However, Mr Cockle said the issues are more complex than it would first appear.

The complaint has come around six weeks after calls began mounting for the council to disband.

Last month, the EADT revealed only 40% of its annual budget was spent on providing services for the public who fund it, with the remainder meeting staff and administration costs.

“Mike Ames and Bob Cockle say that I ask too many questions of the town clerk and at council meetings, and that I have been doing so for two years,” said Mr Nettleton.

“They also make several other allegations against me and because of the complexity of some of the allegations, the Standards Board has decided to fully investigate the matter.

“It appears they don't like the fact that I sometimes ask awkward questions, particularly of Mike Ames.”

Mr Nettleton said he had been elected unanimously as councillor internal auditor for three consecutive years since the body had been in existence - and said a key element of that role was to question and investigate.

“Part of the duties of a councillor internal auditor is to investigate matters on behalf of the council taxpayers. This inevitably involves asking questions,” he added.

“Mike Ames and Bob Cockle are basically complaining that I am doing my job properly and currently I have several outstanding questions which Mike Ames is refusing to answer.

“The electors are entitled to know what Bury St Edmunds Town Council is doing in their name.”

Mr Nettleton added that the complaint has come less than a month after a “behind-closed-doors” meeting was held, during which members of the council decided not to complain to the watchdog body.

And he vowed to continue questioning fellow council members, saying the Standards Board had advised him to continue his duties as normal until the investigation is complete.

However, Mr Cockle, chairman of the staffing panel on the council, said the complaint was more complex than would first appear.

“He has been reported to the Standards Board, but it is more involved than just asking questions,” he said. “We will now wait for it to run its course.”

Mr Ames added: “I do not want to make any comment because this issue has been reported to the Standards Board and it is up to them to go through the proper process.

“I do not want to say anything which will undermine that process. It has got to be fair.”

A spokesman for the Standards Board said an Ethical Standards Officer would now investigate the complaint, with four outcomes possible as a result.

These, she said, could include finding no breach had happened, taking no further action or referring the matter to an independent board for a hearing.

The spokesman said the body aimed to resolve 90% of cases within six months.

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