Claims he harassed markets boss by email ‘frivolous, potentially malicious and utterly without merit’ says angry East Cambs councillor
PUBLISHED: 23:30 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 17:27 31 August 2019
District councillor Simon Harries says that an allegation that he sent ‘harassing emails’ to Ely markets boss Julia Davis is “completely frivolous, potentially malicious and utterly without any form of merit.”
Cllr Harries, who won Ely North for the Lib Dems in the May elections, said that East Cambs Council "have serious questions to answer over the affair for which I am being victimised".
The complaint raised by Ms Davis - wife of the chief executive John Hill - was made through her line manager and commercial director Emma Grima.
Cllr Harries has been told by officials that emails he had sent to Ms Davis had been assessed by Ms Grima as "not acceptable".
But Cllr Harries insists he has done nothing wrong and was simply trying to get officers' attention over the row that broke over the Morris and molly procession for the folk festival.
He said he got involved since organisers Andy and Joan Wall were his constituents and alerted him to "stonewalling and a refusal to engage by the markets team".
Cllr Harries said he could not understand the resistance to the procession going through the market - as it had done for many years- and yet when he sent several emails he got no response.
He told Ms Davis in one email: "Your approach is entirely unsatisfactory and unhelpful. It is also arbitrary in nature, using the small print in your market trading terms and conditions document in a ruthless way to close down discussion."
He warned he would be calling for an investigation into the "whole market management issue".
Cllr Harries told her: "Please do not be the killjoy who singlehandedly and for no good reasons terminates a life-affirming positive and beneficial Ely tradition."
Eventually agreement was reached but he remained concerned he could not speak with officers or get a response after raising his concerns.
"Following this dismal story of failed communication and unnecessary strife, a face to face meeting took place with the leader of the council, Anna Bailey, and, as predicted, a compromise solution was reached in minutes," said Cllr Harries.
He was angry that the council "repeated the claim that the procession through the market had never been forbidden - I state for the record this is false, and can be proven".
He added: "This is the second time since my election in which the council has used a supposedly neutral press release channel to send out misleading and biased content. It is starting to become a habit."
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Cllr Harries says it is officers who had brought the council into disrepute "and the already low levels of trust between citizens and council have been further reduced. "No lessons have been learned and no changes made to extremely bad communication practice. But apparently, the only person who has a case to answer is me."
He called on the council to dismiss the complaint against him, alleges he is being singled out for asking "difficult questions" about the council's trading activities, and to find out why the markets team is being "so inflexible".
Folk festival organisers challenged Ms Davis about her suggestions that the procession could find a route that did not involve going directly through the market.
"The route has been carefully thought through over the years so that we have a smooth flow of dancers and no hold up" Mr Wall told her in late June.
He asked for details about complaints alleged to have been made by traders about the 2018 event.
Mr Wall said in talks with the Saturday market manager and stall holders "we have encountered only a warm welcome and enthusiasm for the procession." He told Ms Davis he was "puzzled by your absolute refusal to let us go through the market as we have done for so many years.
"I would also like to know the details of each complaint rather than just having a flat bureaucratic refusal from yourselves."
Market officer Lisa Quinn told Mrs Walls in another email: "I am afraid we received complaints from traders last year due to disruption of trade while your event was taking place so we would request that the dancers refrain from going directly through the market."
Cllr Bailey said brokered talks which led to the procession going ahead as normal.
She said: "I am personally upset that the district council has been portrayed as having 'banned' the Morris and molly dancers' procession and want to reassure people that this didn't happen.
"As with so many issues in life, I am certain that communications could have been better, but of course the district council welcomes the tradition that the procession has become."
Cllr Harries had has been told that if he had an issue then it should have been addressed in the first place to a senior officer.
Officers told him that one of his emails "do not convey any respect for officers and are of an intimidating and bullying nature".
Council officials want an apology.