A Conservative county councillor has been sanctioned for two tweets criticising the Tory leadership - including one where he said a cabinet member was ‘as much use as a condom with a hole in it’.
Councillor Jason Smithers also criticised then leader Councillor Heather Smith, who subsequently made an official complaint about the tweet, saying she found it ‘bullying and offensive’.
Councillor Smithers posted the offending tweets on February 27, shortly after he was elected to office.
Former finance cabinet member Councillor Robin Brown also complained after Councillor Smithers posted on his account: “This sucks Cllr Robin Brown you have been asleep at the controls. Your about as much use as a condom with a hole in it. #failedleadership”
On the same afternoon he sent a tweet addressed to the leader, writing: “@LeaderNCC cllr Smith why don’t you just throw in the towel just go before you cause anymore damage to the reputation of the council. You and some members of your cabinet have failed. I hope that the SFO is brought in to investigate your conduct. #failedleadership”
The former leader contested that the use of the acronym ‘SFO’ referred to the Serious Fraud Office, saying she understood this to be a suggestion she should be investigated for fraud.
Councillor Smithers though, who is also a town councillor and Mayor of Higham Ferrers, retorted that he was thinking of a ‘Senior Finance Officer’, who would be looking into the decisions that were being made.
He said: “At no time did I think I was referring to the serious fraud office, and I was not implying that either of the councillors had committed any fraud.”
He subsequently sent an emailed apology to Cllr Smith after discussing the tweets with democratic services.
Councillor Smithers appeared before the county council’s standards committee this afternoon at One Angel Square, where he told the committee had not received the code of conduct at the time, and admitted ‘with hindsight the wording could have been better’.
But committee chairman Councillor John McGhee, summing up, felt that the code of conduct had been breached, and that ‘on the balance of probability’ Councillor Smithers had intended to refer to the Serious Fraud Office.
The panel will publish the findings of the report to the council and Councillor Smithers, as well as all other councillors, will have to undergo training on the code of conduct.
Speaking following the verdict, Councillor Smithers said: “I have to respect the findings of the committee and acknowledge what they say.
“I don’t think the tweets were offensive, when in the political limelight you need to be tough skinned.
“To find that I’ve brought the council into disrepute, I just find it rather rich when their financial decisions left us where we are.”