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Mayor Nik Johnson threatens ‘formal action’ against Tory council leader for ‘impropriety’ claims

‘In your public comments you have cast aspersions against me as a practising doctor’ Mayor tells Cllr Bailey.

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Cleared by an independent investigator of more serious allegations that included misuse of funds and bullying, Labour Mayor Dr Nik Johnson turned the tables today by threatening to take “formal action” against a Tory council leader for publicly “suggesting impropriety on my part”.

He warned arch critic Cllr Anna Bailey, Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire, that he would take action against her allegations, and invited her to “publicly retract those remarks and apologise accordingly”.

The mayor’s challenge came at the end of a lengthy debate by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) that had been required to “note” the findings of a subcommittee of the audit and governance committee that oversaw a conduct hearing against him.

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Cllr Bailey had tried to table a motion calling for the full report – redacted or otherwise – to be published.

Edwina Adefehinti, chief legal and monitoring officer, advised no such motion could be put. It would breach CAPCA’s own constitution, she said, for such a motion to be tenable.

Mayor Johnson had handed over chairing the debate to his deputy, Cllr Anna Smith, who at the end invited Dr Johnson to address the meeting.

He said: “Cllr Bailey I have no wish to prevent you from holding me to account and have no objections to you robustly challenging my politics, policies, or my performance

“As I see it you have an inalienable right to do so

“However, in your public comments you have cast aspersions against me as a practising doctor. You have also made an unsubstantiated insinuation regarding instructions given about me to a junior member of staff, choosing a form of words that could be interpreted as suggesting impropriety on my part.

“As the decision makes clear your claims bear no resemblance to matters covered by the investigation

“Given their reputationally damaging nature, I ask that you publicly retract those remarks and apologise accordingly

“If not you leave me with no alternative but to move to formal action against you.”

His outburst surprised Cllr Bailey who went onto say that the Mayor’s comments “are not helpful for relationships to make openly threaten legal action against a member of the board and I stand by what I said in the notice I have published.

“Everything it states is truth.”

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson said: “In truth it wasn’t always clear that I would be coming back; don’t get me wrong, I wanted to, the mind was definitely willing, perhaps the body not so much”

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson told Cllr Anna Bailey: “You have also made an unsubstantiated insinuation regarding instructions given about me to a junior member of staff, choosing a form of words that could be interpreted as suggesting impropriety on my part.”

Mayor Johnson added that “on a point of clarity I did not state legal action but formal action”.

During his address, Dr Johnson repeated his previous apologies after an independent investigator had concluded he had breached the members’ code of conduct in relation to civility and disrepute.

He hoped “we can soon draw a line under a very unpleasant period in our collective history and we are looking forward on behalf of our region to come together as a board on what is, in actual fact, substantial common ground “

Ms Adefehinti summarised the code of conduct hearing reminding members of the findings related only to breaches relating to issues of civility and the breach of disrepute to the mayor’s office.

She said the sanctions imposed – that of an apology and refreshed training – was the extent of those allowed in the constitution. The Government had abandoned the previous standards regime in 2011 and she said “no sanctions can ask the mayor to resign or member to resign from their role.

“Sanctions are what they are”.

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She said the report had been drafted by an external investigator with 30 years’ experience and it contained “a mixture of allegations” not just involving the mayor but third parties.

The monitoring officer said she had taken legal advice from barristers but ultimately it was the subcommittee – a cross party group of four – who had unanimously decided against publication of the full report in any form.

Cllr Bailey felt the sanctions available fell “woefully short” and “I feel that information is being hidden from the public, including work of a henchman which rings massive alarm bells to members of the public”.

She said not to release the report was wrong, especially as CAPCA and the mayor talked about transparency and accountability whilst the public remains “blissfully unaware of what has happened.

“What interest is so important is overrides public interest test?”.

Mayor Dr Johnson warned arch critic Cllr Anna Bailey, Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire, that he would take action against her allegations, and invited her to “publicly retract those remarks and apologise accordingly”.

Mayor Dr Johnson warned arch critic Cllr Anna Bailey, Conservative leader of East Cambridgeshire, that he would take action against her allegations, and invited her to “publicly retract those remarks and apologise accordingly”.

Cllr Bailey alleged all of the staff from the period covered by the report had left, she accused the mayor of getting through six chief executives in his time in office, and CAPCA had been warned by government of “serious concerns about culture and key individuals”, had received a best value warning notice and missed out on grants of hundreds of millions because of “chaos and incompetence”.

She added: “Public interest completely outweighs any other interest – if I was the mayor, I would be doing the decent thing and resign.”

Again, the monitoring officer intervened pointing out that CAPCA would be “straining murky waters” if the report was published and key individuals identified, not least with people’s right to privacy through GDPR regulations.

She also felt that “if the report is published in full there may be difficulties with these individuals in future; the internet never forgets. If their name may crop up, people may not comprehend what happened.  What does that do to others who wish to complain in the future?”

John Peach, attending as Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, argued that “if the full report were to be made public, it would clear the air, I am sure the mayor would want that transparency”.

Again, however, Ms Adefehinti, told the board the published decision sets out the findings to each breach. What was not included is information about others and “there is nothing else I am aware of any further allegations left out which concerns the mayor”.

Mayor Johnson had handed over chairing the debate to his deputy, Cllr Anna Smith, who at the end invited Dr Johnson to address the meeting.

Mayor Johnson had handed over chairing the debate to his deputy, Cllr Anna Smith, who at the end invited Dr Johnson to address the meeting.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha said an “awful lot is being said and spun, giving more energy and air to rumours about this discussion and allegations not true and found not to be accurate”.

She said a number of things Cllr Bailey was implying about the mayor’s behaviour “is not accurate”.

Cllr Nethsingha said what the mayor was accused of was failure of leadership, but he did not act disrespectfully to employees, nor did he bully anyone.

She said the breaches found against the mayor remained serious but the implications being touted around were out of all proportion to what is in the actual report.

And she reminded her Conservative opponents that “I have seen worse behaviour – I could go into farmgate. What comes out in this report is tiny compared to some of those things”.

Cllr Chris Boden backed the proposed motion from his Tory colleague Cllr Bailey.

He said he in his personal experience, he always found Mayor Johnson “to be pleasant and friendly” but “unfortunately things rolled out the way they did”.

Cllr Boden said publication of the report would help deal with “allegations swirling around” and that “if things were out in the open, we would know and directly refute sexual impropriety and other matters which I have heard”.

He also claimed, “victims of behaviour” had been “gagged” but asked if he could ask questions such as the “medical conditions of victims” and “provision by the Combined Authority of home security” he was blocked after being reminded these were not issues relevant to the debate and not part of the report being considered.

In a later intervention, when discussing relationships between CAPCA and government, Cllr Boden added the board “cannot morally trample of corpses of victims because we need to look good for government”.

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