Election 2022: Councillors could be voted back in despite unresolved complaints

Elections are underway for councillors at SADC.

Elections are underway for councillors at SADC. - Credit: Archant

Councillors accused of breaching professional standards could be re-elected to office because of huge delays in concluding any investigations.

Cllrs Geoff Harrison and Danny Clare are both on the ballot sheet in today's St Albans district council (SADC) elections, despite the shadow of formal complaints hanging over them.

Another individual, former councillor Mandy McNeil, has decided not to seek re-election for her seat in Sopwell ward, which could mean a complaint against her will never be satisfactorily investigated.

The council's internal investigation process has rumbled on for months with no signs of resolution for any of the three complaints, leaving voters in limbo about the findings of either case.

The next time SADC's standards committee meets will be this coming October, with no guarantee these investigations will even be resolved by that date.

In February 2021, a group of Charter Market traders filed a formal complaint against Ms McNeil, alleging she made a series of misleading claims to justify unpopular changes to the historic market involving switching traditional stalls to gazebos. 

Last August, Cllr Geoff Harrison was the subject of a complaint over a comment he allegedly made to a developer’s agent before an important meeting about plans to bulldoze land off Harpenden Road in St Albans.

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Campaign group CLASH (Campaign by Locals Against Sewell Housing) alleged Cllr Harrison was seen approaching an agent for the developer prior to the meeting, and subsequently insisted the development would not result in any traffic problems, something they dispute.

The investigation into the complaint remains open, more than eight months later.

The same month, Cllr Danny Clare was accused of abusing a member of public on social media, although he insisted his comments were sent “entirely in my capacity as an individual, not a councillor”.

But again the complaint has yet to be resolved by SADC.

St Albans council has a blanket policy of refusing to comment on standards complaints against councillors unless they have been upheld.

However, policy states that the council’s head legal officer must determine, in consultation with an “independent person”, whether to progress the investigation and refer it to the standards committee, although no time frame is given for when this process must be concluded.

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said in response: "It is fair to say everyone is dissatisfied with the speed of the council officers dealing with complaints, but it applies to all parties."