An official complaint has been made about a remark said to be homophobic and allegedly made by a Boston Borough Council cabinet member and committee chairman.
The comments were said to have taken the form of joke by Councillor David Brown at a training meeting on 20th April, attended by planning committee members and officers.
But it is said to have misfired with some of those present – prompting former Mayor Councillor Brian Rush to take the matter up with a senior officer attending the meeting.
Councillor Rush says that he was promised some sort of action on the matter, and that although an apology was offered, he felt that it was not enough.
In a 1,600 word letter of official complaint to the council’s Monitoring Officer Michelle Sacks, Councillor Rush says: “The very fact that he has been thought a suitable person to hold the office of Chair of Planning is worrying enough in itself, but now to have been presented with a Cabinet position” – Councillor Brown replaced Councillor Mike Brookes as portfolio holder for environment – “is a bridge too far in my estimation and … is extremely worrying.
“It is my belief that his promotion will certainly have undermined the confidence of future planning applicants, but will also surely have damaged the trust that the people of Boston Borough need to have in their elected members.
“You will … know just how angry and disappointed I was to be informed by you that in ‘your opinion’, this councillor’s apology, was ‘an acceptable and adequate response to what those who were in attendance had heard!’'
“Let me also say that I have good reason to believe that not to be true.
“Nor in fact do I believe that such an apology would have been thought acceptable, especially given the forum within which the ‘story’ was told.”
Later, he adds: “Given that this administration is reputed to pride itself on subscribing to a policy of fairness and open-mindedness, I believe that this man has undermined those policies with his unsolicited, and degrading homophobic commentary, without the slightest regard for ‘any or all of those present’.
“It is a matter of record that all in attendance were experienced councillors, and senior officers, you being one, whom one would expect to behave to the highest possible standards of language and behaviour.
“Yet on this occasion Councillor Brown failed to act correctly, without the slightest regard for fellow attendees, nor those whose life preferences, or human persuasions, may have differed from others present.
Councillor Rush says that he is surprised that Councillor Brown is still in post as Planning Committee chairman – adding “that once the genie is out of the bottle we can never ever then be sure that such jaundiced opinions are nullified, except by his removal from councillorship.
“… can the action taken, and the apology made, completely erase the mental opinions he so clearly harbours, and how can we or the public, ever now have any confidence in the fairness of judgement he is expected to project?
He concludes: “Councillors in my opinion should never mock or criticise other members of society whose life differences are a matter of personal choice, some of which may indicate sexual preferences of their own, which may be very different from one’s own; that does not give anyone the right to scoff or criticise such differences in a public arena.”
“ … Given the insensitive and offensive nature of the comments made by him, I believe this renders him completely unsuitable for membership of the planning committee but also and indeed, any level of public scrutiny.
“This embarrassingly offensive, so-called ‘funny’ story, begs us all to ask, what kind of leader would ever have allowed any member to express such homophobic, and offensive opinions within an arena where the ‘life standards’ of others, can and are, at times, completely different.
“No amount of training could ever eradicate such a discriminatory opinion.”
We asked Councillor Brown for a reply – which was equally robust.
He told Boston Eye: “I will confirm a complaint about a remark I made in a private training session where no member of the public was present has been made by Brian Rush.
“Simon Rowberry – the former Interim Development Manager of planning – was talking about the Green Party and the attitude some Green councillors take to planning issues.
“He followed ‘There are a lot of Greens in Brighton.’
“I quipped ‘Mmm – there are a lot of Gays in Brighton.’ That's it – exactly what I said. Anyone who twists this in any way or exaggerates is telling you a lie and I will swear on Oath that's exactly what I said.
“During the lunch break Michelle Sacks asked for a quiet word and suggested I might have offended someone in the room – perhaps they had a gay son and were experiencing trauma.
“On my return to the meeting I addressed those present; I apologised and said I wished to withdraw the remark as I am no bigot and certainly wished no offence.
“Let me tell you something about myself. I'm one of six kids – my father died when I was nine. My loving mother raised us kids to accept people for who they are. We have always been a family that prides itself on acceptance to all people no matter what their colour, creed, religion or sexual persuasion …”
“ … I was especially offended when Brian Rush said on camera THEY (the councillors) WILL NOT MEET THESE PEOPLE (the Muslim community.*) That’s an offensive outrageous remark to make.
“From 1985 to 1993 I ran my own giftware manufacturing business and came in to contact with many Gays – either running a gift shop or being a sculptor/model making. They are very talented people; many of them have remained close, personal friends since.
“Recently I became aware of a remark at another meeting. I asked the gentleman – I'll call him Fred – ‘Is it true you asked the Mayor for the possibility of a Gay pride Carnival to take place in the Town’?
“He replied ‘It was mentioned in the meeting within the events committee and his reply was something like ‘Such an event and the people it attracts would not be welcome’
“Who's the real bigot?
“The screenshot of the message was shown to Michelle Sacks together with the name of the correspondent. I shall further pursue my complaint if Brian wishes to play tit for tat.
“It seems to me Brian is out for revenge.
“Is that the behaviour of a councillor? Surely the council chamber is where one scores a victory.
“As for the Extraordinary Meeting calling for his resignation, my speech was deliberately kept neutral – after all it was me who "seconded" him in the first place. I started with the words ‘Damned if we do, damned if we don't.’
“You know full well that if we had brushed it under the carpet (and that would have been my choice) we would have been vilified just the same but then, I can't turn the clock back.”
*This comment was made in February after a motion was passed at an Extraordinary meeting of the council, calling for the resignation of Councillor Rush over certain remarks alleged to have been made on Facebook.
We e-mailed the borough’s Monitoring Officer to ask what the procedure was following a complaint, but the question apparently went unmonitored – as we are sure that it was not deliberately ignored.
Another interesting sidebar along the road to openness and transparency was that one of our e-mails to Councillor Brown was blocked by Boston Borough Council.
We’re sure that councillors of all political persuasions will be pleased that apparently Worst Street determines what they should or should not read, and manages their mail accordingly.
No sooner had the ink dried on last week’s blog in which we called into question Boston Borough Council’s reliance on the internet than – abracadabra! – up sprang another Worst Street website … to encourage economic growth in Boston borough.
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According to WorstWeb the site, which has the slogan THINK BOSTON think business “puts the borough on the economic map,” gives a host of great reasons for businesses and their workforce to want to settle here and is updated with social media posts about businesses and business opportunities
Frankly, we have to say that we have seen better.
A lot of what appear to be links turn out to be no such thing – and the Boston net has been cast wide to include embrace, Holbeach and, we think, Sleaford.
Newcomers to Boston, may well be lured by the promise of “readily available and reasonably priced housing” – but may find the promise of “good connectivity by road and rail” slightly more elusive.
The bottom line is that the website is little more than a collection of links to organisations that do things.
There is a section entitled “get in touch” which includes a “contact form” asking for name, e-mail address, ‘phone number and a message.
Who receives that it anyone’s guess, and the provision of a name would be a good starting point – a personal touch that might help things along in these competitive times.
The feeling that any content will do so long as the pages look busy is inescapable.
A section on “attractions” includes such entries as the Fenside Community Centre, Boston Aerodrome, Boston and County Club, the Len Medlock Voluntary Centre and the railway station.
And in some cases, there is scant attention to detail – witness the entry below … ironically for an attraction owned by borough council leader Michael Cooper.
Think Boston also has its own Twitter page – apparently created some months ago – which includes many entries which are completely irrelevant to Boston and to thinking about it.
Worse than that, the non-local links are mostly tales of industrial doom and gloom – such as “European fruit pickers shun Britain/ Poundworld future in the balance after buyer pulls out/Rate rise chances dim as inflation falls/M&S to close 100 stores by 2022/Tesco Direct closure puts 500 jobs at risk.”
But never mind – at least the feed has followers – all five of them when last we looked.
They comprised Clive Gibbon, the Economic Development Manager at Boston Borough Council, Boston Eye., BBC Radio Lincolnshire, a local food firm and a local PR firm.
Look on the bright side – things can only get better.
They can’t get any worse!
Just over two years ago, Worst Street published its “working document” for balancing the budget by 2020 to find spending reductions of £2.2 million including “a staggered downsizing of staff reflecting the changing size and shape of the council through other transformation projects.”
We were told: “The council has done its best to prepare itself for the difficult times ahead.
“It already has the leanest senior management team of any council in the county, possibly the country - just two.
“The chief executive has taken on the duties of the deputy chief executive and the finance director shares his time with a neighbouring authority.
“Other staff work in part for Boston Borough Council and in part for neighbouring councils, such as East Lindsey District Council and South Holland District Council. Savings have also been made by sharing services, such as some refuse collecting duties.”
So it came as something of a surprise to learn of changes to the structure which appear to be the opposite of those declared in 2016, and which have slipped under the radar without any kind of announcement.
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The most recent update – posted on WorstWeb less than a month ago – shows no fewer than seven members.
Not only that, but we have reacquired a Deputy Chief Executive role bolted on to the existing duties of the borough’s Corporate Director and Monitoring Officer – a promotion that surely must be accompanied by a decent pay rise.
So what about the shared duties between Boston and East Lindsey?
For some years, the role of Section 151 officer – a council’s finance chief – has been held by Robert Barlow and shared between the two authorities.
But there seem to have been changed here as well.
On the East Lindsey website, Mr Barlow repeatedly appears not only as the Section 151 officer – but on at least one list as a permanent employee at East Lindsey, working four days a week as the Deputy Chief Executive on a salary between £85 -£90,000 a year.
So is at least one councillor, who told Boston Eye: “He definitely only recently told me, he was taking retirement for health reasons”
Whilst it always sounds a little pompous to say that we pay the bill for councillors and for officers it is nonetheless true – an a little more transparency on who gets our money and for what would be most welcome.
We also note that Worst Street has clambered on to the bandwagon that aggrandises preciously easy-to-understand job descriptions.
Until now, Phil Perry, the officer in charge of the town centre, leisure, events and culture has uncomplicatedly been known as “Head of Town Centre, Leisure, Events and Culture” – a description that clearly does what it says on the packet.
Now, the council appears to have adopted the practice known as jobbledygook – and Mr Perry has become the Head of Place and Space.
We don’t know who dreamt up that bunch of bollocks – but feel that they must have much in common with the creators of the jobs in the list below of fancy pants job titles … drawn up by the Plain English Foundation …
There are three weeks to go before yet another “pubic consultation” draws to a close – this one seeking our views on how Lincolnshire disposes of its rubbish. Our observations of these so-called soundings of taxpayer opinion in the past are that whichever council is asking the questions, the result is usually the one they wanted in the first place.
Worryingly, the County Council consultation comes at a time when a policy paper by the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee has come up with a proposal that would see taxpayers charged for the weight of the general waste they put out.
It would mean installing electronic chips in tens of millions of bins so that collection lorries can recognise them.
Currently bin collection costs fall under council tax.
LARAC, which speaks for senior council waste officers, said the ‘pay as you throw’ charges could be kept down if manufacturers and supermarkets were forced to pay much more to fund council rubbish services.
LARAC argued the charging regime would boost recycling as people would make sure plastic, paper, glass and food are put in household recycling bins, which would not carry a charge, rather than general waste bins.
The government is consulting on reforms to how the UK pays for the collection, handling and recycling of waste, and the LARAC policy document says rubbish collection should be split away from council tax.
It says: “A fundamental shift in funding is needed.
“It is time to look at how we decouple provision of waste services from being considered ‘what council tax pays for’ and move it to something that producers and users are responsible for.’
We know from past experience that Worst Street loves the idea of decoupling services that were previously provided from the council tax and feel sure that Clownty Hall would be onside for that as well.
Just be aware … at the moment waste removal is a statutory requirement – but watch out for moves to change all that.
The main argument against the sort of thing is that if – like most households – taxpayers dispose of their waste correctly they will simply end up paying extra for a service that was previously included in their council tax; another example of less for more that is becoming increasingly widespread.
Finally we’re on a two week break from this edition for reasons of Ho-Ho … hospitals and holidays.
Look out for the next edition on Monday 2nd July.
But don’t forget – we’re still available on e-mail and via Twitter, and if anything urgent needs reporting we’ll make sure we cover it.
You can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
E– mails will be treated in confidence and published anonymously if requested.
Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com
We are on Twitter – visit @eye_boston