A FORMER Mumbles community councillor has been censured for breaching the code of conduct after submitting a string of complaints about fellow councillors and offering to share a recording she took of a confidential meeting with someone outside the council.
Louise Thomas is no longer a councillor, but a Swansea Council standards committee said it would have suspended her for six months had she still been one.
The committee issued the sanction after considering more than 300 pages of material and evidence and hearing from Leigh McAndrew, of Public Ombudsman for Wales, which investigated the matter, and Mrs Thomas herself. One of the three councillors complained about, Sara Keeton, was ready to be called into the meeting to talk about what had happened, but the committee didn’t feel this was necessary.
Lay committee chairman, Mike Lewis, said it found there was “an element of repetition” in Mrs Thomas’s complaints, and that they were “partly frivolous” and also “portending towards the end of maliciousness and vexatious”. The recording of the confidential meeting, he said, had an “element of planning”.
Mrs Thomas said she would appeal the decision and felt it was unfair she was unable to cross-examine the councillors she had complained about, which she alleged could have proved that lies had been told. She said: “This is Mumbles community councillors ganging up on one member, and I have evidence.” She added: “I am not lying. I do not lie.”
The committee heard that Mrs Thomas attended her first Mumbles Community Council meeting in May 2021 and made three complaints to the Ombudsman the following day, claiming that Cllrs Keeton, Carrie Townsend-Jones and Pamela Erasmus had failed to show consideration and respect to others and had offered employment to an applicant without consulting the council. The Ombudsman looked into it and was told that Cllr Erasmus had not been involved in the matters complained about, and that Mrs Thomas’s complaint seemed to be about maladministration relating to the recruitment process. The Ombudsman told Mrs Thomas that no evidence of a code of conduct breach had been identified and advised her to seek guidance prior to submitting further complaints.
Mrs Thomas then made further complaints alleging “catty” behaviour at a council meeting, that she had been excluded from a particular matter, inappropriate comments on the council’s WhatsApp group, and bullying behaviour, among other things.
The Ombudsman wrote to Mrs Thomas after the eighth complaint to say none had been taken forward for investigation because they largely related to “personal issues” between her and other councillors.
Mrs Thomas then made another complaint about Cllr Keeton regarding a confidential meeting in which she claimed those present were asked to agree a sum of around £68,000 being paid to the company lined up to build the new Mumbles Skatepark before a lease for the land had been agreed. Mrs Thomas, who had concerns, recorded the meeting and then offered to share it with the chairman of Mumbles Skatepark Association, Jason Williams.
Her message to Mr Williams said councillors at the meeting felt that a decision about the money was needed – this related to apparent National Lottery funding processes – but that there was disagreement about it. She said it then “all became a little bit hazy”. Mrs Thomas supplied South Wales Police, Audit Wales and Swansea Council’s legal department with the recording.
The three councillors Mrs Thomas had taken issue with were taken aback by the complaints, with one of them – Cllr Erasmus – telling the Ombudsman that she felt Mrs Thomas was “very dangerous”.
The community council’s chairman, Cllr Martin O’Neill, complained twice to the Ombudsman about “a series of vexatious complaints” by Mrs Thomas, her recording of the confidential meeting and her offer to share it with a third party. Mrs Thomas resigned as a councillor in January 2022 before rejoining for a short period in the summer.
The Ombudsman referred the saga to the council’s standards committee after concluding that Mrs Thomas’s behaviour had breached two sections of the councillors’ code of conduct – namely not to conduct oneself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing one’s office or authority into disrepute, and not to make vexatious, malicious, or frivolous complaints against other councillors.
At the committee meeting Mrs Thomas disputed one of the agreed facts of the case which stated she had not attended a code of conduct training course. She said she had attended one session but was unable to persuade the committee that she had done so.
Mr McAndrew said it was “extremely unusual” for a councillor to make such a large number of complaints about other members, particularly in a short period of time. The personal impact of one of the complaints about Cllr Keeton, he added, was “significant” as she was made aware of it a few days before Christmas.
Mrs Thomas said the two complaints about her had also been made just before Christmas. She added: “I feel I have been bullied, I have been ostracised, and that this whole process today is very unfair as I have not been able to cross-examine the people that matter.”
Before the committee announced its decision, Mr McAndrew said the Ombudsman felt the code of conduct breaches by Mrs Thomas were “serious and significant”. Although she was an inexperienced councillor, he said, there were aggravating factors such as the blaming of others for her actions, a “refusal to accept facts despite evidence to the contrary”, and “dishonesty” in relation to some of the complaints made.
Mrs Thomas said she did not agree with the Ombudsman, that she felt she had been defamed during the process, and that she would appeal any censure by the committee.
Announcing the six-month suspension sanction, committee chairman Mr Lewis said it felt Mrs Thomas’s behaviour had been “particular serious”, notwithstanding that she had “some genuinely-held concerns about what was happening”.