THE deputy Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Cllr Rob Lewis, faces a Code of Conduct hearing next week after being accused of using authority computers for political campaigning during local elections.
The Public Services Ombudsman was called into investigate a complaint made by Cllr David Bryan, who had also been a member of the ruling Independent Plus Group before leaving following the 2012’ elections.
In September 2012 Cllr Bryan was given an anonymous DVD called 'IPG election campaigns 2008 and 2012' with 16 sub-files on it, says an Ombudsman's report.
A report prepared for a Standards Committee Hearing on March 18 states that Cllr Lewis accepts that he had used the council’s computer system inappropriately in 16 circumstances but disputes that the context of a further five instances were improper use.
This is because he believes they “relate to the management of the political structure of the council and are directly connected to the running of the council and is therefore not a breach of the Code of Conduct”.
The first 16 files, which are not disputed as inappropriate by Cllr Lewis, included election posters and documents encouraging voters to support Independent Group councillors David Simpson, Elwyn Morse, Ken Rowlands, Lyndon Frayling, Pearl Llewellyn, Peter Stock and himself and former councillors Clive Collins, Jim Codd and John George.
All were prepared in March, April and May 2012 with ‘lewisrob’ shown as author or last person to save the file.
The files Cllr Lewis maintains were connected to the running of the council in his role as secretary for the Independent Plus Group, included a list of candidates in different colours to identify political affiliation, invitations to the political group’s May 8 2012 meeting, details of wards and candidates divided into “Independents”, Labour”, “Uglies” and “Tories”, a colour coded list of wards with ticks and those “still to sign” and a list of wards, colour coded candidates and initials of winning candidates were among the documents.
The files were created in January, April and May of 2012 and again lewisrob was listed as author or last person to save.
When interviewed, Cllr Lewis said he was “recently” aware of the council’s IT guidance for members and the limitations imposed by the Code of Conduct. He also said the equipment was not used for printing.
He agreed he was responsible for the files using the council’s computer system and said they were for his colleagues’ electioneering purposes as secretary of the group. He described himself as being used as a “sounding board” by members.
Referring to the disputed files Cllr Lewis “laughed in response to the comment that the 'Uglies' would need an explanation”.
“Councillor Lewis said that he could not now justify the use of the council’s computer system and said, ‘But at the time I must say I, you know officers have a period of time per day that they’re allowed to use the computer for other use, and I was of a similar understanding, but I’m obviously wrong, I know that.’
“He said that as a cabinet member he was at the council offices all day, similar to officers who have access to their computers for personal use, ‘I was of the wrong view that I might be able to use the machine for other purposes occasionally.’ He now accepted that was not the case.
“Councillor Lewis said that this information passed to Councillor Bryan had been stolen from his computer,” adds Mr Tyndall’s report.
Cllr Lewis also highlighted discussion of the matter in the media and on political blogs but this was dismissed by the ombudsman as no names were mentioned.
Mr Tyndall found that the files could not be construed as appropriate usage of the authority’s computer system, do not have a bearing on council business and are party political and the matter should be referred to the monitoring officer for consideration by the Standards Committee, which will meet at County Hall on Tuesday March 18.