Complaint lodged against Liberal Democrat councillor

CONSERVATIVES on Woking Borough Council have called for the local Lib Dem Leader to be investigated over alleged ‘serious and unethical behaviour’.

Councillor Will Forster, who has led the Liberal Democrats for two years, has been accused of ‘bring-ing himself and the council into disrepute’ by Tory counterpart Cllr Melanie Whitehand.

Among the concerns raised by Cllr Whitehand with Peter Bryant, the council’s Monitoring Officer, was a letter sent by Cllr Forster to the News & Mail, printed on 16 July 2015.

Cllr Whitehand claims that in the correspondence Cllr Forster implied that Mayford & Sutton Green Conservative Cllr Ayesha Azad did not attend a meeting of the Executive where proposals for development on green belt in her ward were being discussed.

The extract in question read: “Neither Councillor Azad or [Carl] Thomson attended the meeting to speak in defence of their respective ward.”

Complaints have also been lodged for comments made by Cllr Forster in regard to the council’s governance arrangements.

A statement from Cllr Whitehand said: “He has repeatedly claimed that the Conservatives amended the council’s constitution to prevent the opposition from chairing the Overview & Scrutiny Committee.

“In fact, the change to the constitution means that any party can chair the committee.”

In addition, Cllr Whitehand has called for an investigation into Cllr Forster’s accusation that there was an attempt on the part of council officers to ‘gentrify’ and ‘push out poorer residents’ from the borough.

Cllr Whitehand said: “While any of these incidents on their own could be written off as an isolated misjudgement or taking party political debate too far, the pattern of dishonest behaviour from Cllr Forster in recent months is deeply troubling and falls short of the high standards that people in Woking expect from their councillors.

“Cllr Forster may suggest that in making this complaint I am trying to restrict his freedom of speech. This is not the case. He is free to attack policies he disagrees with. He is even free to make personal attacks about his political opponents.

“But he should not be permitted to knowingly make repeated statements to the press and public which he knows to be untrue, for party political gain, and which seek to mislead about the council’s work or unjustly call into question the integrity of his colleagues.”

Should the case against Cllr Forster be taken further, the complaint will be examined by a meeting of the cross-party Standards & Audit Committee.

If Cllr Forster is found guilty of ‘breaching the authority’s Code of Conduct’, he could face disciplinary sanctions, including suspension of his allowances, or be forced to issue an apology.

Speaking to the News & Mail about the allegations lodged against him, Cllr Forster said: “I am sorry to hear that Melanie Whitehand and the Conservatives are seeking to turn political disagreements into ‘breaches of the Council’s Code of Conduct’. She is wasting public money and time by doing so.

“This follows recent derogatory and personal comments about me made by both the [Conservative] Leader and [Conservative] Deputy Leader of the Council’s Executive.

“As Leader of the Opposition on the council I have a duty to oppose and scrutinise decisions of the ruling group.

“I do not oppose for opposition’s sake, but when the ruling Conservatives act in an inappropriate way – such as planning to put local affordable housing in Aldershot – I rightly criticise them for it.

“Woking has and needs an appropriate and constructive opposition, one that is a critical friend to the Executive and at times provides robust opposition.

“The key issue is that the Conservatives do not like any opposition or scrutiny, and with important all-out Local Elections
in May, they are getting nervous and defensive.”

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