Councillor found guilty of code of conduct breaches after allegations of ‘bullying behaviour’
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
A Gwynedd councillor has been found guilty of four code of conduct breaches following allegations of “bullying behaviour” towards a former town council clerk.
Cllr Mike Stevens, who was also accused of making “sexist comments”, and who represents Tywyn on Gwynedd Council, resigned as a town councillor before Wednesday’s hearing after blaming increasing commitments elsewhere.
But Gwynedd’s Standards Committee heard evidence from the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales’ office amid allegations relating to a string of emails to the then clerk of Tywyn Town Council.
The ombudsman’s probe related solely to his town council role rather than a member of Gwynedd Council.
But after the meeting Cllr Stevens said he plans to launch an appeal with the Adjudication Panel for Wales, describing the process as “biased and unbalanced.”
Katrin Shaw, representing the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales’ office, described “a pattern of behaviour,” adding that Mr Stevens had referred to the clerk’s “inflated ego, her dictatorial attitude, and that she has a massively inflated opinion of herself.”
She added: “There are gendered comments in there that she’s a fantasist and misandrist, that she is a novice in her job – you will see a few references there that the ombudsman considered crossed the line and were attempting to undermine and bully the clerk in her position.”
Noting that the clerk has been in post for three years at the time, Ms Shaw referred to further emails during 2019 and 2020 including comments referring to the then-clerk’s “petulant nature,” calling her “an overbearing schoolmistress” and “was slowly emasculating the council.”
Having interviewed several witnesses and town councillors, she added: “the vast majority of members of the council considered the correspondence from Cllr Stevens to the clerk was unreasonable, that it was harassing, belittling, borderline misogynistic, disrespectful.”
However, one female member of the council also stated that Cllr Stevens had always been courteous to her and had never felt intimidated and bullied by him, while another member felt that Cllr Stevens’ emails were “speaking the truth,” albeit robustly.
Reference was also made to “a venomous problem in the council and a real issue of constant bickering.”
‘Intimidating and overly robust’
Cllr Stevens, who did not attend the hearing, claimed the clerk “had acted beyond her authority” and her behaviour had been “intimidating and overly robust” and had “no respect towards him.”
Going on to state “he was always careful what he put down in writing” and the tone was “reasonable,” Cllr Stevens added that he “genuinely believed the clerk was a novice.”
But Ms Shaw, summing up, concluded: “There is a pattern of behaviour demonstrated towards the clerk, in her witness statement she refers to the fact that she was unwell and had to take time away from the office because of these events.
“She talks about the impact the behaviour has had on her…. (having) never experienced anything of this nature before in her working life.
“As far as the ombudsman is concerned the pattern of sexist comments, in my view, the reference to the clerk’s gender, her attitude, beliefs are peppered through those emails.
“There is evidence of bullying behaviour towards the clerk and those breaches are very serious.”
Cllr Stevens, as considered by the Standards Committee, had breached the following:
- 4(a) (You must) carry out your duties and responsibilities with due regard to the principle that there should be equality of opportunity for all people, regardless of their gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, age or religion;
- 4(b) show respect and consideration for others;
- 4(c) not use bullying behaviour and harass any person
- 6(1)(a) not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute
With Cllr Stevens having tended his resignation as a member of Tywyn Town Council on December 4, the committee stated that he would otherwise have been handed a lengthy suspension.
‘Most serious breach’
Dr Einir Young, the Standards Committee chairman, said: “It is the committee’s view that this is a most serious breach of the code of conduct and has decided that the former town councillor, Mike Stevens, should be censured.
“Considering the factors, the committee would like to note that had he not resigned he would likely have been suspended for the maximum time period permitted.
“The committee would also like him to consider and reflect his behaviour, specifically how he speaks to and communicates with others in any other public role he holds now and in future.”
Cllr Mike Stevens, after being approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, confirmed his intention to appeal the decision.
“The Ombudsman’s claim of bullying is totally without foundation and he does produce any evidence to substantiate it as there is none because it never happened,” he said
Criticising a decision by Gwynedd Council not to offer him indemnity insurance to appoint legal representation, he went on to describe the Code of Conduct as “ambiguous, completely out of date and not fit for purpose in a modern society.”
“Fortunately, most people in the Tywyn area are well aware of my good conduct over many years,” he concluded.