Council chief exec blasts back at councillor

Donna Hall (right) on election night
Donna Hall (right) on election night
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WIGAN Council’s chief executive was branded a liar and politically biased in a series of online slurs, a local authority standards hearing was told.

Coun Gareth Fairhurst was yesterday found guilty of breaching both the officer member protocol and the chamber’s code of conduct.

Donna Hall, the council’s top officer, told the town hall hearing she thought Coun Fairhurst’s accusations “became persistent, vindictive and touched upon being obsessive”.

But the committee struggled to impose serious sanction on the Standish Independent because he has already been punished for previous code breaches.

Investigating officers told the hearing the only other punishments at their disposal – stripping Coun Fairhurst of his Brighter Borough funding or school governorship – had already been imposed for a previous offence.

Ms Hall, who gave evidence to the committee as the complainant, suggested Coun Fairhurst should have to make a contribution to the mayor’s charity as punishment.

Representing himself at the proceedings which ran for more than five hours, Coun Fairhurst disputed whether he was acting in an official capacity when he made the comments.

He also criticised the committee for choosing a council officer to compile the investigative report, claiming it would be impossible for them to have an “open mind”.

He said: “We all know what this is, let’s not pussyfoot around it, this is the ‘Get Fairhurst’ campaign.

“The people of Standish do not have a reasonable belief that I have brought my office into disrepute. If I have, they will do to me like they did to Emma McGurrin, not vote for her and humiliate her.”

In a bizarre turn in the proceedings, Coun Fairhurst cited a radio interview in which Ms Hall said she had once performed with pop-band Chumbawumba.

He told the hearing: “The band’s manager said he had never heard of Donna Hall. But she can be heard saying she was an actual member.

“What I am saying ... it is there that she has told lies in the past.”

Ms Hall clarified that she had performed alongside Chumbawumba, not claimed she was a member of the band, but questioned how the councillor’s line of questioning was relevant.

Among the internet posts covered in the complaints was in a ‘New Councillors’ section of a local magazine in which Coun Fairhurst had written immediately after his 2012 election victory: “Quite prominent in the election campaign was the lies and dirty tricks that Labour and their friends in The Town Hall ... the residents of Standish will not stand for their lies and dirty tricks, including from the chief executive who is meant to be impartial.”

Another, written on his blog, referred to council officers: “What these pen pushers civil servants don’t realise is that they work for us, councillors, who in turn work for you the public and they are at the bottom of the pile and not the top.”

Ms Hall told the hearing it was the first time she had a made a complaint about a member but she felt she had to because of the “complete lack of respect from Coun Fairhurst toward council officers”.

Coun Fairhurst also questioned the decision not to interview him prior to the hearing although committee chair Coun Charles Rigby said the councillor had been contacted about the draft report and had not submitted any representations.

In her conclusion, investigating officer Nicola Welch, said: “By repeatedly criticising her (Ms Hall’s) impartiality and competence in public ... Coun Fairhurst has failed to treat the chief executive with respect and through this failure he has brought his office and authority into disrepute.”

Imposing the sanctions, Coun Clive Rigby said: “I don’t think it’s wrong to say that we are limited in what we can do because the sanctions have already been exhausted previously.”