Pembrokeshire County Councillor who 'used his position to create advantage for himself' is censured
3:10pm Saturday 23rd March 2013 in County News
A county councillor was found to have 'used his position as a councillor to create an advantage for himself' following an investigation by the Public Service Ombudsman.
Cllr Myles Pepper, who represents Fishguard North East, has been censured and will have to undergo training after a failing to comply with the Members' Code of Conduct and not declaring a personal or prejudicial interest in a traffic consultation.
A request to remove an Access Order from The Slade, where Cllr Pepper lives, which prevents people driving along the road unless it is to access a premises was made by a nearby resident in late 2011.
The request was made by a Mrs Mellor who suggested that the order gave residents of The Slade a parking advantage. Cllr Pepper had not declared an interest in the matter.
Pembrokeshire County Council's traffic manager consulted Cllr Pepper who wrote to the residents of The Slade, receiving ten responses. Cllr Pepper said that more than 50% of residents had asked for the order to be retained.
Cllr Pepper does not use his home address for council correspondence but his business address at West Wales Arts Centre, West Street, Fishguard. His ownership of two properties on The Slade is noted in the register of members' interests and he considered this sufficient as a declaration.
He said he told the traffic manager he was a resident of The Slade and was not told to declare an interest but the traffic manager said Cllr Pepper did not tell him he was a resident until he delivered the results of the consultation.
Cllr Pepper told ombudsman investigator Elizabeth Thomas that he did not consider whether he should have declared an interest as 'almost all the residents new (sic) me as their County Councillor' and when writing to residents he had been open and not attempted to influence their decision.
The report states that he said, "he thought that only those who owned a property or resided on The Slade should be entitled to put forward their preference".
Cllr Pepper said he had "only ever acted as an elected member representing his constituents when dealing with the matter".
He did agree that a decision to remove the order could affect him or his family and that if it were removed it would become more difficult for him, or his family to park on The Slade.
He did not agree that a member of the public would consider that his well being could be affected by the outcome of the consultation he organised.
"Councillor Pepper said that he did not seek to influence the decision about the Order. He said his role was to arrange the consultation process and he was not involved in the decision making.
"He said he acted with the best interests of his constituents at heart and did not attempt to influence the outcome or 'improperly attempt to obtain an advantage for himself or anyone else as a consequence of his position as an elected member'," states the ombudsman report.
It adds that Cllr Pepper said he had not received training on the code of conduct since May 2008 and that 'may well be partial cause of any perceived failings in this area on this occasion'.
The council monitoring officer told the investigator that Cllr Pepper had not attended subsequent refresher training sessions and had not sought advice from him about the matter.
The ombudsman report, written by Elizabeth Thomas, states: "I have no doubt that Councillor Pepper's interest in the Council's consideration of whether to remove the Order was prejudicial.
"Councillor Pepper was affected by the outcome of the decision. I consider that the public would find it very difficult to understand how he could possibly be objective about the matter.
"By participating in the decision making process, when he should not have, I consider that Councillor Pepper had an unfair opportunity to ensure that the Order was retained. Mrs Mellor, as the member of the public who asked for the Order to be removed, did not have the same opportunity.
"Councillor Pepper said that he acted with the best interests of his constituents at heart. However, Mrs Mellor was also his constituent, there is no evidence that he acted on her behalf on this occasion."
A council spokesman said: "A meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council's Standards Committee on Tuesday, March 13th found that County Councillor Myles Pepper had breached the Code of Conduct.
"Councillor Pepper was censured and is required to attend training within three months of the appeal process expiring."
Cllr Pepper said he could not currently comment further.