PRESSURE is being put on Stratford district councillors at the centre of a sexism scandal to resign.
Following an investigation Independent councillor Peter Barnes and Conservative councillor John Feilding were found to have made inappropriate comments to female staff at the council. They breached the authority’s code of conduct and were ordered to apologise to the staff members concerned.
The investigation was sparked by sexism claims from former chief executive Isabel Edgar Briancon. A report detailed a number of concerns raised by council staff against the two men including the use of sexually suggestive, derogatory and sexist language.
But residents ‘shocked’ by the behaviour described in the report say an apology is not enough.
Warwickshire county councillor Dominic Skinner said: “I am completely appalled by the findings of this report. Any behaviour as serious as this must be dealt with in a robust and swift manner. Both councillors should resign immediately.
“A forced apology is not enough. In any other workplace, both would have been sacked immediately on the conclusion of this investigation.”
And resident Marion Homer has sent an email to the councillors demanding they resign.
She said: “I’m appalled that the sexist behaviour of two councillors is being dealt with so lightly – the behaviour, and the very weak ‘sanctions’ applied to them puts our town in a really bad light and throws questions over the whole culture at Elizabeth House (Stratford District Council’s headquarters).
“It’s easy to think we just have to accept this. I don’t think we do – we need to ensure councillors at every level are aware that we, as residents at Stratford, demand more of them.”
Stratford District deputy leader Daren Pemberton apologised ‘unreservedly’ to all staff and those affected by the councillors’ actions.
He said the most serious sanction he could currently impose on Coun Feilding was to suspend him from the council’s Conservative group, which has been done.
Coun Pemberton added: “The actions of both members are wrong. They have both apologised unreservedly in writing and have agreed to undergo further training and support so that their actions in future meet the high standards required in public life. They will be supported in doing so.
“I want to say publicly to all staff and the residents of Stratford district that this is not who we are and who we want to be. It is vital that all elected members act professionally at all times in their dealings with anyone. This behaviour is isolated and does not reflect how the vast majority of members act.
“I hope that the sanctions imposed arising from the breaches of the members’ code of conduct and our own swift action demonstrates to our staff and residents how seriously I and all elected members treat this behaviour.”
Coun Barnes told the Observer he had no intention of stepping down and did not recall the comments he was accused of making, which included a remark to Ms Edgar-Briancon about ‘good breeding hips’ and an offer to perform a Pagan fertility ritual on her. The Welford ward councillor did not deny the claims but blamed ill-health and being prescribed the wrong tablets.
He added he had received many emails in support of his role as councillor since the report was published.
Claims against Coun Feilding included invasion of personal space, making an uninvited comment about his sexual health, and stroking a female officer’s neck. The Red Horse ward councillor said he may have leant on the back of the officer’s chair to see the computer, but did not touch her and the remark about his sexual health occurred outside the office.
The Observer has contacted Coun Feilding but has not yet received a response.