Parish council meetings are often seen as genteel affairs, where the topics of playing fields and street lights may be discussed over cups of tea and digestives.
But for one Solihull community, a spat has broken out over the conduct of a chairman who has been asked to re-train for breaching an historic code of conduct.
In the leafy community of Castle Bromwich, where subjects up for discussion at its parish meetings in Arden Hall normally range from park benches to community halls, two councillors have criticised chairman Coun John Riordan for treating them with a lack of respect.
A rare parish council standards committee hearing this week has ruled Coun Riordan breached article 3 of the Parish Council Code of Conduct for treating a fellow member with a lack respect. As a result he must now re-train as chairman.
All members of the parish council will also have to undergo a course on equality training as a result of the finding.
Councillor Terrie Knibb and former councillor Nigel Harris both alleged to have been treated disrespectfully by Coun Riordan.
While the committee found no breach of the code regarding allegations made by Mr Harris that Coun Riordan did not reply to an email and a letter he had sent him, they found the chairman had failed in his duty to adjust the nature of council meetings to accommodate Coun Knibb’s medical needs, which were not disclosed.
Standards committee members spent a day undertaking the lengthy and detailed hearings of deciding whether the code had been breached.
The complaints against Coun Riordan arose following a debate in a council meeting last February over use of community facilities by voluntary groups. The meeting descended into a cyclical argument over whether parish councillors were classed as volunteers themselves.
Witness statements varied over whether the discussion had been what would be normally expected at a parish council meeting, with some claiming the debate, which lasted at least 20 minutes, had gone on as usual and others of the opinion it had descended into disarray.
Councillor Alison Haywood said: “It had gone round and round in circles until another councillor suggested that perhaps the time had come to move on.
“I recall it was much more passionate but I felt that was a perfectly normal meeting for us.
“I think the issue is people that come with preconceptions of parish councils. We do have different views, but I expect them to be debated.”
Mr Harris, who has since resigned from his role as councillor, lodged a complaint claiming Coun Riordan did not reply to an e-mail and letter he sent after the meeting, while Coun Knibb suggested she had been treated with “unnecessary aggression”.
Coun Riordan said: “We must have the ability in a parish council to express our views without being complained against. The only adjustment I could possibly make would be to remain silent, and that denies me my freedom of speech.”
Complaints over parish councillors breaching the code of practice have increased since the standards hearings have been held locally. Previously they had been held by national body Standards for England.
Castle Bromwich Parish Council covers a population of nearly 12,000.
Much of the long-established council’s precept goes on maintaining its base, Arden Hall, in Water Orton Road, constructed in the 1960s, and now home to a handful of community groups and fundraising events.