Hatfield leader faces allegations of bullying and ‘obtaining a personal benefit from a number of council contracts’
PUBLISHED: 17:00 25 September 2020
Danny Loo Photography 2017
There have been two allegations made against the leader of Hatfield Town Council surrounding “obtaining a personal benefit from a number of council contracts” and bullying.
THE HEARING OF A COMPLAINT
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A year-long independent investigation into town councillor Lenny Brandon by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, which cost around £15,000, is set to be heard on Tuesday.
The investigator, who was appointed in September 2019 and completed his report in April 2020, has already found “that there has been a breach of the Town Council’s code of conduct for councillors”.
Cllr Brandon, a member of the Labour party, is accused first of “bullying a senior employee of the town council” – which the WHT has learnt is the town clerk.
Another allegation is to do with several conflict of interests issues, which according to the report are “an alleged failure by the member to declare relevant interests, excluding council staff from meetings with contractors or potential contractors and obtaining a personal benefit from a number of council contracts”.
The report also said it went to the borough “due to the nature of the allegations, detailed facts as set out in the investigator’s report and the member’s continued rejection of the allegations as set out in his statements to the investigator”, adding: “The view was taken that this matter could not reasonably be resolved by a local resolution”.
Hatfield Town Council has previously been blasted for refusing to disclose spending on a major housing development and football stadium at Birchwood Playing Field and trying to attempt legal action against a local Facebook group for defamation, which local authorities cannot do.
Three payments – all made to Salisbury Square-based architects Bryant & Moore of £34,800 on October 13, 2016, as well as £3,744 on November 4 and £6,468 on February 21 2017, about Birchwood were revealed in August 2017.
The scheme recently reared its head earlier this year when residents were left baffled when they showed up to a meeting purportedly about a stadium and were shown plans for a mix of one and two-bedroom units.
The WHT clarified with members that two proposals were discussed, alongside the option of doing nothing, when councillors met behind closed doors – and there would be a public consultation if any of the plans go forward.
In 1992, the House of Lords’ decision in the case of Derbyshire County Council vs Times Newspapers ruled that a local authority may not sue for defamation.
This is not the first time the WHT has covered issues with parish council – the lowest tier of local authorities, of which Hatfield is one.
There were mass resignations of councillors and staff at Northaw and Cuffley Parish Council, who cited the “sustained pressure” by a Green Belt group, earlier this year – which now has many members on the council.
The allegations were dismissed by the group but left the council unable to function for a time,
A parish councillor also resigned in October 2019 from the same council after a bullet was sent to them in the post.
For all the South Mimms parish councillors – which includes chairman Yvonne Harverson, vice-chairman Paula Arnold, Cllr Mark Edwards and Cllr Neil Pumfrey – the abuse on social media and at meetings got to the point where they felt there was no choice but to resign in August.
In the letter the four councillors said: “It has become increasingly clear that there are elements in the village who do not think that we are doing a good job of representing them and their views and who have a wholly negative view of the parish council.”
Cllr Harverson has not yet formally resigned and as there is by-elections open for other South Mimms councillors Hertsmere is set to appoint people to run the parish while the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing and elections cannot be held.
Welwyn Parish Council has also been “appalled” by members of the public as a result of “verbal abuse” “that is misinformed and divisive”.
Cllr Brandon is also a member of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council but these complaints do not relate to him in that capacity.
He said in response: “It would be inappropriate for me to comment with the hearing [scheduled] for Tuesday.”
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