A Bembridge parish councillor — who said residents should not be kept in the dark about council business — has been cleared of breaching the members’ code of conduct after he published a confidential agenda online.
Cllr Alasdair Steane posted the meeting agenda — which included details due to be discussed in a private session, relating to the controversial sale of the former parish building in the High Street — on the Open Bembridge Facebook page.
Incorrectly marked as ‘confidential’
However, the Isle of Wight Council’s appeals sub committee found the agenda should not have been marked confidential in the first place.
Although the committee found Cllr Steane did knowingly and deliberately disclose the information, chair Cllr John Kilpatrick said:
“His actions were in all circumstances reasonable, made in the public interest and in good faith. The requirement for the council to treat the agenda as confidential was not reasonable.”
Public interest tips in balance of favour of disclosure
Investigating officer Simon Wiggins said he had tried to determine why the public and private meeting agendas were both marked confidential, but the response he had received from the parish council clerk had been inconclusive.
“The public interest in this matter tips in the balance of favour of disclosure and, in this case, no breach was found.”
Steane: ‘Vast majority’ of council business conducted in private
Cllr Steane said his actions were in the public interest and, further, alleged the ‘vast majority’ of parish council business was conducted in private.
“I thought long and heard before putting anything online for the obvious reason of the confidentiality markings.
“The item under discussion had been in the press for two years. It was a very serious issue and I deemed it to be in the public interest so I went ahead and published it because I though it was important people knew.”
Lyons: Unusual measures by parish council
Committee member Cllr Mick Lyons said the ‘extreme confidentiality measures’ taken by the parish council were unusual.
“Whether or not something is confidential is a decision that should be made by the chair and the clerk on reasonable grounds.
“I do not see how a parish council can make something confidential for its own convenience. They have to have some sort of reason to make it confidential.”
This case follows another Bembridge Parish Councillor Richard Weaver being found to have breached the code of conduct for swearing at Cllr Steane during a meeting.
This article is from the BBC’s LDRS (Local Democracy Reporter Service) scheme, which OnTheWight is taking part in. Some alterations and additions may be been made by OnTheWight. Ed