Two Shaftesbury Town councillors, Peter Yeo and Karen Tippins, have been criticised for their poor behaviour, lack of professionalism and for bringing the Town Council into disrepute.
The Dorset Council panel that determines whether councillors have breached the Code of Conduct and expected standards in public office delivered their findings yesterday, Wednesday.
The Audit and Governance Hearing Sub-Committee is made-up of councillors and staff from Dorset Council’s legal and elections team. This group watched video recordings and conducted interviews during their investigation of several complaints about Cllr Yeo’s and Cllr Tippins’ behaviour during 2020.
In June, Shaftesbury Town Council held a meeting to pass a vote of no confidence in Cllr Tippins following allegations of bullying, which she denies. During that Zoom session, Cllr Yeo made an obscene hand gesture towards his video camera. He also swore repeatedly.
Panel chairman Cllr Richard Biggs told Cllr Yeo, “I’ve never seen anything as disrespectful in terms of language in any of my more than nearly thirty years of being on the council.”
However, the panel accepted that meeting chairman Cllr Tim Cook had not offered Cllr Yeo, ‘a fair opportunity’ to explain the ‘point of order’ Cllr Yeo wished to raise in that meeting.
Assessing another complaint, the panel felt that Cllr Tippins acted unprofessionally when she chose not to face or pay attention to a speaker who had been invited to address the Town Council in February. The guest was sharing plans for Shaftesbury FC’s academy project. The meeting heard that Cllr Tippins brought the council into disrepute by choosing not to acknowledge the visitor as he spoke.
When interviewed, Cllr Tippins claimed that she could not turn to face the presenter because turning around would have caused her physical discomfort. Dorset Council’s investigating officer, Jacqui Andrews, did not find Cllr Tippins’ explanation ‘credible’. The meeting heard that Cllr Tippins could have politely explained that she needed to switch seats.
Complaints that Cllr Tippins and Cllr Yeo were aggressive during that Town Hall meeting were dismissed because there was no video footage to review. That session was held before the pandemic restrictions, when Zoom meetings were introduced.
Cllr Tippins was reprimanded for her behaviour in another meeting on 14th April when she called Cllr Matthew Welch ‘thick’ and an ‘idiot’. She claimed she had been ‘baited’ by the other councillors.
Ms Andrews had been informed that Cllr Tippins had been bereaved at this time. She did not accept that as an excuse for the insulting remarks which Cllr Welch said made him feel ‘humiliated’. Ms Andrews accepted that Cllr Tippins had since apologised to Cllr Welch for her remarks in April. That apology came on the 25th August, four days after Ms Andrews’ report had been circulated to all parties concerned.
Ms Andrews addressed Cllr Tippins’ claim that she had been shouted at during the session. Ms Andrews said she reviewed the video and found one occasion when Cllr Hollingshead shouted his opinion that Cllr Tippins was a liar. “I would ask members to note that at a subsequent meeting on 2nd June, Cllr Hollingshead made a public apology,” said Ms Andrews. The panel heard that Cllr Tippins had been, “childish, unprofessional and wholly disrespectful” during this meeting.
Subsequent national press coverage of these councillors’ behaviour brought Shaftesbury Town Council into disrepute outside our immediate area, according to the panel.
Cllrs Yeo and Tippins will now be summoned to a full hearing. Dorset Council’s board will decide whether the two councillors face sanctions in that session, or ‘trial’ as Cllr Yeo described it.
Cllr Yeo had been told he was not allowed to speak during yesterday’s panel, but he ignored that instruction, interrupting seven times. He challenged the panel’s chairman over its decision and the panel’s process. During one outburst, he informed the chairman that he had engaged a solicitor and was taking the panel to the ombudsman. Panel member Cllr Sue Cocking said, “What I’ve just experienced with this councillor speaks volumes. He has no respect for councillors or for anyone.”
In a statement sent to Alfred after the hearing, Cllr Yeo said that he disputed the panel’s findings. He also claimed that Shaftesbury Town Council, “broke British and European Council law by switching off my microphone (and later camera) to try and stop me lawfully intervening to stop this bullying.”
Cllr Tippins emailed Alfred stating: “Any further Dorset Council investigation is a waste of everyone’s time. However, the Dorset Council Audit and Governance Hearing Sub-Committee and Cllr Welch have not accepted my apology and the investigation continues.”
Both councillors claim the investigation has been a waste of taxpayers’ money.
You can watch a Dorset Council recording of the meeting here.