October 6, 2021 2.33 pm

Lincoln councillor hauled before hearing after he “went off” at officer

Councillor threatened to go above the officer’s head

A City of Lincoln Councillor is set to appear before a hearing at the authority after he “went off” at a council officer earlier this year.

A report by Monitoring Officer Carolyn Wheater will tell the meeting next Tuesday that Labour Councillor Gary Hewson breached the Member Code of Conduct in his treatment of Resident Involvement Manager Chris Morton when he queried the route of a tour of inspection around Moorland and Boultham Park in August.

The Boultham ward councillor wanted to know when officers would visit the St Andrew’s Gardens area, but was told by Mr Morton that it was not on the route.

“Before I could try to resolve the issue Councillor Hewson then ‘went off on one’ and began a tirade,” said Mr Morton in a formal complaint.

He reportedly told Mr Morton he had “promised residents” they would be inspecting the estate, adding: “You and the housing officers better get yourselves down here, otherwise the residents are going to think the council doesn’t care, this will show the council in a bad light because nobody is resolving their issues.”

Mr Morton said Councillor Hewson told him staff “shouldn’t be in their jobs if they don’t want to do them” and threatened to go to directors, the authority’s chief executive and the press before putting the phone down on him twice.

“Whilst I appreciate Councillor Hewson was upset with the situation, I believe the way he spoke to me was inappropriate and I should not have to suffer being spoken to in this way, which was borderline abusive,” said Mr Morton

“Being told to leave your job by a senior member who is the chair of the Housing Scrutiny Committee could have made me feel intimidated and would have likely made a more junior member of staff feel threatened if he had spoken to them.”

Since Mr Morton’s complaint was made, Councillor Hewson has emailed him to apologise, writing: “I apologise if I upset you but my actions for doing so of holding up the reputation of the council and looking after the interests of those who elected me was not in my view a unreasonable request.

“I hope we can both work, together moving forward RE: Tenant Involvement, which is your role on the council.”

However, Mr Morton has rejected the apology, telling the Monitoring Officer: “If you use the word ‘but’ after an apology, I always class this as you are trying to make an excuse for your actions and not really sorry.”

Councillor Hewson wanted officers to tour St Andrews Gardens, but was unhappy to be told it was not on the original route. | Photo: Google Streetview

During interview by the Monitoring Officer, Councillor Hewson said what he said was “reasonable”.

Asked if he considered his behaviour to be disrespectful or bullying, Councillor Hewson said he had apologised but officers “have to take the rough with the smooth”.

The report added: “He said that you could ‘see it that way’ that his behaviour was bullying, but that he was here for the residents.

“Cllr Hewson said that the residents wouldn’t have got a visit if he hadn’t spoken to the officers in that way, that officers are paid to do a job and it wasn’t unreasonable to use that language to get them to come across.”

He told the monitoring officer he would “live with” any disciplinary, adding he would do it again and “stand up at council and say it all again”.

The officers report before councillors concluded Councillor Hewson “failed to treat Chris Morton with respect and displayed bullying behaviour towards him”.

However, it noted there was a “reasonable expectation” to assume the tour would include St Andrews Gardens, and there had been an error in communication

“While I absolutely understand the frustration Councillor Hewson felt when officers stated they would not be going to St Andrew’s Gardens when he and the residents had been led to believe they were, I can see no exception or mitigation which would make the language and comments used during that conversation… acceptable.”

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