Freemasonry inquiry dubbed 'unacceptable'
Thursday, July 16, 2009
This is Exeter
THE private investigation into Freemasonry's influence within Torbay Council has been described as 'unacceptable'.
Claims about Freemasonary were made in the Herald Express on May 27 by councillors Roger Carter, Nicole Amil and Robert Excell.
They also alleged that Tory group leader Kevin Carroll had 'punished' them by removing them from committee positions. These claims were backed up by Cllr Gordon Oliver.
Following publication of their claims in the Herald Express, monitoring officer Keith Stevens launched an investigation, and his findings were presented to the standards referrals sub-committee.
After analysing Mr Stevens' report, standards sub-committee members Peter Dalzell, Sylvia Faryna and Cllr Ian Doggett were 'satisfied that no action was warranted'.
The committee also warned the councillors against speaking out publicly about 'unsubstantiated' issues in the future.
None of the Tory councillors involved in raising concerns has spoken publicly about the matter, but independent councillor Julien Parrott said the matter did not reflect well on the council.
Cllr Parrott, former chairman of the council's overview and scrutiny committee, said he did not like the tone of the sub committee's findings or its warnings about councillors speaking out.
He added: "That's unacceptable, in my view.
"I think the way it's all been handled is inept. We were told at a council meeting that the monitoring officer's word is law — which is crazy.
"I see a number of things going on that should be questioned. The thing is, the matter's not a party-political issue. It's right across the political spectrum.
"But the curious thing is that the investigation about Freemasonry was conducted in private.
"I would suggest that such powers are used sparingly. Local government is about transparency. If it isn't, then what's the point?
"The whole matter doesn't show the council in a good light."
The monitoring officer's report is not being made public, although the Herald Express has submitted a Freedom of Information request to see the report.
Peter Dalzell, chairman of the standards sub-committee, said he stood by his colleagues' findings.
He added: "If any councillor or member of the public wishes to make a complaint, there are official channels.
"If people or council members have questions, with facts to back them up, they should take them through the correct procedure, rather than through the press.
"Those channels have not as yet been used in this instance. If they are followed, the matter will then be investigated.
"The whole raison d'ętre of the council is to ensure that it has integrity. There's certainly no question of this investigation being secret.
"The investigation was raised in the first place because of the councillors' comments, and the monitoring officer then wrote his report.
"The standards committee stands apart from the council. It is independent and objective. We're certainly not trying to silence anybody.
"Anyone not happy with what's happened can appeal to the Standards Board for England."