A senior York councillor will not face any further sanctions after being cleared of most of the allegations of misconduct levelled against him.
A standards hearing on Thursday (January 4) considered claims that former City of York Council deputy leader Cllr Keith Aspden had behaved inappropriately when dealing with the appointment of a Lib Dem intern to a council post.
The allegations concerned behaviour dating back to 2015 – but were only made in August 2017. At that time Cllr Aspden was summarily sacked by the then council leader from his post on the executive.
It has taken at least £70,000 of public money to deal with the claims.
After a near-12 hour hearing at City of York Council the joint standards committee cleared Cllr Aspden of:
- taking confidential documents about the job application to a York pub
- having a ‘close association’ with the successful candidate.
But they did find that
- information about the job candidates was ‘improperly shared’ at the pub meeting.
On sanctions, the committee’s view was the actions already taken by the council – stripping Cllr Aspden from his executive post, his job as deputy leader, and the salary that went with it – “are far more severe than anything that the panel would have considered for this kind of breach”.
So no further action should be taken.
‘A horrific experience’
Speaking to David Dunning of Minster FM after the hearing, Cllr Aspden said it had been an “horrific, two-year experience that has cost the council taxpayers of this city tens of thousands of pounds”.
He said the panel’s finding that he improperly discussed the job applications at the Duke of York pub was “extremely disappointing at the end of an incredibly long, detailed, arduous two year process”.
The Lib Dem group will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether he will return to his role as council deputy leader, as well as their response to the process.
The standards committee said it would be making recommendations about the council’s appointment processes, on improving the disciplinary processes and on training for council officers and members.
From January 3, 2019 @ 8.26 pm
More details emerge about alleged senior councillor misconduct
By Chloe Laversuch – Local Democracy Reporter
The person who accused a senior York councillor of misconduct was a council employee who had admitted to committing an act of misconduct himself, a hearing was told today.
Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Keith Aspden, faced a standards hearing after independent investigators concluded that
- he had a “personal interest” in the recruitment process of a member of staff
- and that he took paper copies of job applications to the Duke of York pub.
But the misconduct hearing today (Thursday, 3 January) meeting heard that the accusations were made two years after the incident took place by a council employee who had admitted an act of misconduct himself to the authority.
The accuser was also on the interview panel for the recruitment of the new member of staff.
Cllr Keith Aspden strongly denies the allegations.
Two year delay
The leader of the Lib Dem Group is accused of having a “close association” with the successful candidate – who was an intern for the Liberal Democrat group – and a report said the candidate also lodged with Cllr Aspden for five weeks after he got the role.
But Cllr Aspden’s lawyer, Caroline Addy, said the candidate worked for the Liberal Democrats for “at most” three days before applying for the job – and was not known to Cllr Aspden before becoming an intern.
She added that the accuser had been on the interview panel for the job, agreed the candidate was the best person for the job and had made the accusations against Cllr Aspden two years after the incident.
She said the evidence against Cllr Aspden was “flimsy”.
What the accuser said
The person making the allegations said: “I regret that I didn’t express my concerns [earlier]. It was easier to keep my head down. It’s really the process that was followed more than anything.”
He said he was “uncomfortable” with discussing the job applications in the pub but did not say anything at the time and could not recall who took paper copies of the applications to the meeting.
He also added that he had lodged with Cllr Aspden for several days himself while working for the council.
Support for councillor
Six people spoke in support of Cllr Aspden at the meeting.
Cllr Ann Reid said the Liberal Democrat group are “angry” about the way Cllr Aspden has been treated, the length of time the investigation has taken and the cost to taxpayers – which is reported to be more than £70,000.
She said: “Keith is a straightforward, diligent and hardworking local councillor.
“Councillors are not employees of the council and do not receive support in the way staff do. Keith has had to go outside the council for advice and support at his own expense.”
Cllr Aspden, speaking at the hearing, said it is right that allegations against councillors are investigated. He said:
The way which this process has been dealt with has caused me great difficulty and distress.
I’m pleased not to be found in breach of the code for a range of unfounded allegations. I have not breached the code for the remaining allegations.
I did not have a close association [with the successful candidate]. I did not share paper documents.
The hearing continues.