Apology not good enough, councillor told
- Credit: Twitter/@MattDowneyEly
A councillor who described Conservative councillors as ‘racists’ has been told his apology came too late and failed to show remorse or regret.
East Cambridgeshire District Council has taken fresh action against Cllr Matthew Downey, who represents Ely East ward.
A subcommittee decided he had failed to comply with two of the sanctions issued previously.
The committee decided they want “an actual apology for the disrespectful remarks aimed at the complainant and other councillors”.
Cllr Downey was told the apology must be made in writing to the complainant within 30 days.
He has also been told to undertake training “in good political debate within six months”.
The finance and assets ethical governance sub issued a formal censure for failing to comply with sanctions imposed in July 2021
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They felt he had breached the council’s code of conduct in that he failed to treat others with respect and when doing so, his conduct brought his office into disrepute.
“Cllr Downey failed to provide an apology or commit to undertaking training during the eight months prior to the subcommittee meeting,” said a council spokesperson.
“A late ‘apology’ and offer to undertake training were submitted by Cllr Downey at 11:52 on the morning of the subcommittee hearing.
“The hearing noted receipt of this but did not accept that this amounted to an apology due to a lack of remorse or regret.”
The spokesperson added: “Furthermore, the ‘apology’ was a reiteration of the remarks which Cllr Downey made which had brought about the original complaint” and which breached the code of conduct”.
Cllr Downey had emailed the subcommittee on the day of new hearing saying “I am writing to apologise.
“Black people and other people of colour in both Ely and the rest of East Cambridgeshire have been done a disservice.”
He said that in 2020 he proposed a motion stating that Black Lives Matter and outlining several policies for the council to combat racism.
“This motion was butchered, with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ being deleted,” he wrote.
“Following this, I tweeted that the Conservative Group which runs the council is racist.
“I highlighted several tweets which I believed to be racist and which were issued or liked by notable Conservative councillors on East Cambridgeshire District Council”
He said that subsequently, the Conservative leader of the council, Anna Bailey, made a complaint.
“Anna Bailey has been upset by my comments,” he wrote. “My intention was not to upset Anna Bailey.
“My intention was to highlight the racism I believe is present in our council. The ethical governance sub-committee, which is dominated by the Conservative group, has instructed me to apologise.
"I am sorry that this process has taken energy away from fighting racism in East Cambridgeshire, and that Black people and other people of colour in our area have been so ill-served.
“The true victims here aren't white councillors but Black people and other people of colour who face discrimination.”
He added: “For the rest of my term as councillor for Ely East I will fight for these communities and endeavour to ensure their voices are heard.”
Opposition councillors argued that Cllr Downey had complied with the sanctions and no further action was needed.
The committee heard that “the apology offered had re-iterated everything that had been stated previously, that had been the cause of the original complaint regarding Councillor Downey’s behaviour.
“To wait until 11:52am that morning to offer an apology was not good enough.
“As a member, different standards of behaviour were expected and these had not been met by Cllr Downey.
“It was disappointing that this issue had to be re-visited and there was no excuse why the sanctions had not been complied with over the last six months.
“It showed a lack of respect for the code of members’ conduct, the complainant, all other councillors and council officers.”
Cllr Downey told the committee no deadlines had been set on the sanctions but he had complied with them.
He said he was genuinely sorry and had been convinced to apologise.