Deputy council leader Rob Lewis’ misuse of council computers has inspired some interesting comments on that other website.
One issue that has been raised is whether those who had their election material produced by these unlawful means were also implicated.
A similar thought occurred to me some time ago when I received an anonymised copy of the Ombudsman’s findings in the case of Cllr Lewis’ confederate, ex-Cllr David Wildman.
This prompted me to put down a question to the Leader at the December meeting of council.
After referring to the contents of the Ombudsman’s letter (October 10) in the Wildman case, I asked: “Was he [the leader] aware that a Cabinet colleague was using the computers in the Cabinet room in the run up to the 2012 local elections?”
Thanks to the wonders of the webcast Cllr Adams’ reply can be reproduced word for word.
He said: “The letter from the Ombudsman was not a published report, generally available, but was addressed to the member who had made the complaint. However I have read the copy letter forwarded to the Monitoring Officer [by the Ombudsman] for record purposes.”
Ex-Cllr Wildman did confirm that his actions were incorrect and he had been mistaken in his perception of what was permitted use of council-supplied equipment” .
I was then invited to put a supplementary question.
Before doing so, I took the opportunity to point out that I had not, as Cllr Adams seemed to imply, received the letter from the complainant (Cllr David Bryan) but from another media outlet that had been provided with copy by the Ombudsman.
As Cllr Adams had been careful not to answer my question, I challenged him to confirm that he was unaware of his “Cabinet colleague’s” activities i.e. illicit use of the council’s computers.
The webcast is silent on this point though my recollection is that the Leader nodded his assent.
There must have been more in that nod than I realised because the minutes record: “Cllr Adams stated that he was not aware of Cllr Wildman’s action, and if he had been, he would have advised him accordingly.”
As someone once said: “I don’t care who’s in the majority, as long as I get to write the minutes.”
I have to admit to being asleep on the job because, when the opportunity arose at the next meeting, I didn’t challenge this embellished account of what went on.
However, thanks to the webcast, it is clear that the leader “stated” no such thing.
Given that this industrial-scale misuse of Cabinet-room computers had eluded his radar, I then asked the Leader whether he could promise to be more observant in future.
He replied: “You’ll forgive me for the fact that I wasn’t as engaged in the electoral process as I might have been had I been challenged in terms of an election and therefore my eye was not on the ball to the extent that you suggest it should have been”
This was a rather long-winded reference to the fact that he had been returned unopposed.
“Verbal diarrhea is a sign of mental constipation” (Anon).
He concluded: “I can confirm, and I will confirm, that members of my group are under no ambiguity in terms of the use of council computers and facilities for the purpose of elections.”
Now, my information is that, far from being disengaged by the lack of a contest in his ward, Cllr Adams used the time that would otherwise have been spent knocking on doors in Roch, Simpson Cross and Keeston in county hall overseeing his party’s election campaign.
It is not altogether clear when his Cabinet colleagues became unambiguously aware that the use of council computers for electioneering was off limits, but, as the practice was rife in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, it seems to have taken rather a long time for the penny to drop.
Indeed, the message doesn’t seem to have got through to Cllr Rob Lewis who was still trying to defend such use of the council’s computer system as late as last Tuesday’s standards committee meeting.
With two of his Cabinet colleagues tap-tapping away at their keyboards; another two having their election materials produced; and another dozen of the party faithful taking advantage of Wildman and Lewis’ publishing skills, Cllr Adams must have been one of the few members of the IPG who didn’t know what was going on.
Perhaps his mind was taken up with thoughts of how he was going to spend the four-and-a-grand in backdated expenses that had just been approved by the director of finance. (Perfect timing) (Poor bookkeeping).
Cllr Adams is fortunate that David Wildman decided to step down and return to his native Wiltshire.
Otherwise he, too, would have likely been up before last week’s standards committee, and following Oscar Wilde, Old Grumpy might have been able to say: “To lose one Cabinet member may be seen as a misfortune; to lose two looks like sheer carelessness”.