Published: 05:00, 26 May 2022
| Updated: 06:55, 26 May 2022
Swale council’s new deputy council leader has been ordered to apologise to two Conservative councillors for comments she made during a planning meeting.
Cllr Monique Bonney (Ind, West Downs) made the remarks at a local plan panel.
Last month, two days before she was appointed deputy leader, she faced a standards hearing sub-committee at Swale House, Sittingbourne, which ruled she had breached the members’ code of conduct which talks about “always treating people with respect”.
During a discussion on October 7 last year, Conservatives James Hunt (The Meads) and Mike Whiting (Teynham and Lynsted) complained that a consultation document was being “rushed through” by chairman Mike Baldock.
Cllr Hunt said: “I think we need to reflect a bit and see if what we are doing is actually the right thing.”
Cllr Whiting said there was not enough information and said: “As a member of this committee, I don’t have sufficient information to feed back to the cabinet what my views should be, because it simply is not there.”
Cllr Bonney, of Stockers Hill Road, Rodmersham, hit back and said: “I’m a bit surprised by members of the opposition seeming to want to slow down the process.
“I mean, we’ve a duty to our local population to make sure we have a valid local plan which we currently have. And we have a duty to provide a new local plan.
“If we don’t, we leave ourselves extremely vulnerable and exposed. I wonder if that’s what their end game is? Maybe their sponsors might like to tell us that?”
The two councillors took that to be a personal attack on them and said it suggested they had undeclared financial ties with other businesses.
Cllr Bonney maintained it referred only to her concerns about donations to political parties when they were in power.
The clash was investigated by the council’s monitoring officer on April 25.
The hearing was chaired by Hannah Perkin (Lib Dem, Abbey) and also featured councillors Steve Davey (Lab, Milton Regis) and Ken Ingleton (Con, Minster Cliffs).
Also present were councillors Mike Baldock, Monique Bonney, Roger Truelove and Mike Whiting.
The council’s chief executive Larissa Reed was also at the hearing which was held behind closed doors with no members of the press allowed.
The complaint said Cllr Bonney breached the code of conduct by making an “unsubstantiated allegation” the policy taken by opposition members was “at the behest of those members’ ‘sponsors’ rather than being those members’ considered view of the needs of the borough and community”.
An “independent person” concluded a breach had happened, according to minutes.
As a result, Cllr Bonney has agreed to make an apology at an “appropriate meeting”. She has no right of appeal.
The monitoring officer acknowledged that complaints between members were not uncommon as councillors were often passionate and held strong views. But he said incidents were usually resolved informally by way of an apology.
But since no apology was forthcoming he had to take the matter further and said there had been “no alternative” to holding a hearing.
Cllr Bonney insisted her comments had not referred to individuals but to the political group nationally and that her words had been misinterpreted.
One witness questioned whether the complaint was only taken to a hearing because Cllr Bonney was one of only two women cabinet members.
The monitoring officer objected to the allegation and dismissed the claim.
During the original discussion Cllr Bonney said: “It’s quite a simple document to read. It’s fairly easy to go through. It is regrettable that we haven’t the conclusions there but we have the main body so there should be absolutely no surprises.” She complained: “Why are we trying to re-invent the wheel quite honestly? I think it’s simple.”
The next “appropriate meeting” is expected to be the Local Plan Panel in June.