Ruling Angus councillors are implicitly endorsing sexual harassment by remaining silent over the appointment of a disgraced member to the administration, one of his harassment victims has said.
Cllr Julie Bell, one of four women treated inappropriately by Richard Moore in October 2017, says administration councillors who do not contest his return to the ruling group earlier this month are “condoning” his conduct.
Council leader David Fairweather has accused opposition councillors and the press of “grandstanding” and “bullying” as scrutiny continues into his decision to welcome councillor Moore – described by watchdogs as lacking insight into his behaviour – back into the administration.
Cllr Moore’s return follows the exit of councillor Lois Speed – the administration’s only female member from the ruling group in March, citing an “unhealthy culture”.
He gives councillor Fairweather a majority of one when voting on new council policies affecting local people.
“What kind of message does this send to Angus citizens, to our employees, our partners and to any woman or girl thinking about representing their community?” councillor Bell said in a statement.
“How off-putting to know this sort of behaviour is condoned by every single member of the current administration.
“Whether by active approval or their deafening silence, every single man in the Tory/independent administration is complicit in their approval of gender-based abuse.
“I wonder if they can look their wives, partners, daughters, mothers, sisters and friends in the eye.”
Cllr Bell’s comments come as a national feminist organisation urged councillors to reflect on the impression given by the administration’s refusal to condone councillor Moore, who was suspended for three months in 2018 following a hearing into his conduct.
Emma Ritch, executive director of Engender, said: “Women make up only 29% of Scotland’s councillors, meaning that men are hugely overrepresented in our local councils – responsible for decisions about our public places, leisure facilities, schools, and funding for essential services.
“There are already so many barriers to women getting involved in local politics that it is disappointing, to say the very least, to see the complaints of female councillors and staff members ultimately treated so dismissively.
“Angus Council has publicly committed to eradicating violence against women and girls, and Engender encourages elected members to reflect on how this commitment applies to themselves.”
Cllr Fairweather, responding to Ms Ritch’s comments, has doubled down on his previous view that “equality works for all, and that goes for men too”.
He said: “Equality means much to me and I will in any way possible strive to help any elected member, constituent or indeed anyone with a problem however big or small. I am proud to be in a position as a councillor so I can perform that function.
“My focus is on Angus Council delivering the best for its residents and continue to keep an open door policy that all elected members can contact me with any concerns or thoughts on the best for the area of Angus.”
Cllr Moore quit the administration after he was handed a three-month suspension by the Standards Commission for Scotland for his inappropriate physical contact and verbal comments towards women.
While he was not formally re-inducted until May, the ex-Lib Dem was part of the so-called “gang of seven” given the power to make decisions for the entire council during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
He sat as a “non-aligned” member alongside four administration councillors and two SNP representatives.
Following his appointment earlier this month, opposition councillors are beginning to publicly question the administration’s competence to govern while councillor Moore remains part of what independent councillor David Cheape termed “the old boys’ club”.
Brian Boyd, an independent rep for Carnoustie, said: “It comes as no surprise to me that there is a deafening silence from the Conservatives and fake independents that form the administration.
“They are merely on the gravy train between now and the next election. It’s appalling how they are more motivated by their large expenses rather than the good people of Angus that they are meant to represent
“Cllr Moore never left the administration as every member voted for him as the non-aligned member during the first lockdown.
“The dark politics and unhealthy culture is rife within this administration and surely not making any comment is endorsing sexual harassment – not only of fellow councillors but also two female members of council staff.”
Edzell and Brechin SNP representative Kenny Braes said he had “grave concerns about the current Angus Council administration group’s handling of this whole situation”.
Monifieth Lib Dem councillor Ben Lawrie – who quit in solidarity with Lois Speed earlier this year – said: “The fact that reputable national feminist organisations like Engender and Change the Chat are speaking out to voice their concerns should trigger serious reflection within the administration.
“When a growing group of equality activists are telling us that there’s a problem, dismissive shrugs will only fan the flames.”
Every member of Angus Council’s administration has been contacted for comment. None have so far responded.
By local democracy reporter Jon Brady