Hove councillor Robert Nemeth faces a disciplinary hearing today (Monday 6 February) for calling the Labour council leader Warren Morgan a liar.
Councillor Nemeth, a Conservative member for Wish Ward, made the claim in the aftermath of the row over the future of Hove Library last year.
On Twitter he said that he had “personally witnessed Councillor Morgan lying about Hove Library”. Councillor Nemeth tweeted his remark on Tuesday 19 July last year.
Councillor Morgan, the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, made a formal complaint on Friday 9 September – the day he said that he first became aware of the comment.
A similar remark, made to Councillor Morgan during a committee meeting by Councillor Joe Miller, also a Conservative, went unchallenged and is not believed to be the subject of a complaint.
In his letter of complaint about Councillor Nemeth, Councillor Morgan said: “I would argue in the strongest terms that I conducted myself throughout the Hove Library discussion in good faith and never knowingly misled or lied to members in that process.”
He said that Councillor Nemeth should have complained, using the council’s standards procedure, if he believed that Councillor Morgan had lied.
Councillor Morgan added that he believed that Councillor Nemeth had breached the council’s code of conduct for councillors.
He cited two rules – “You must treat others with respect” and “You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.”
He added: “Accusing a member, particularly a council leader, of deliberately and purposefully lying during the course of a decision-making meeting is in my view a very serious matter and one that I would wish to pursue via a formal standards complaint.
“If Councillor Nemeth cannot substantiate his comment then I will ask that a Standards Panel be convened. I will expect a deletion, retraction and public apology via the same medium.”
Councillor Nemeth said that he had collected witness statements from a council committee meeting, an article by Councillor Morgan and a Labour leaflet.
The leaflet said that the Conservatives and Greens were proposing to close seven community libraries.
But Councillor Nemeth has said that it was Councillor Morgan who had said that if the Conservatives and Greens did not support the sale of the Hove Library building, seven community libraries would close.
In the event, the opposition Tories and Greens outvoted Labour and kept Hove Library open on its current site.
Instead of closing community libraries to keep to budget, Councillor Morgan said that he had instructed officials to find other ways to make the necessary financial savings.
The locum corporate lawyer who investigated the complaint on behalf of the council, Victoria Simpson, said in a report: “I do not consider that the fact that no libraries have closed despite the (Policy, Resources and Growth Committee) decisions to be capable of providing a sufficient degree of proof that the complainant lied in his earlier statements.
“Demonstrating that a person has spoken untruthfully, with intent to mislead or deceive, to convey a false impression or to practise deception, is no simple matter.
“It requires evidence to be adduced which demonstrates that that person has both a) acted in manner which is false or untruthful and b) done so with the intention of misleading or deceiving others.
“I have not had sight of any evidence of either untruthfulness or intention to mislead others on the complainant’s part.”
She said that when the Tories and Greens outvoted Labour at a Policy, Resources and Growth Committee on Thursday 9 June last year, the council leader “flagged up his intention to work to find a solution which did not reflect his preferred course”.
She said that she had found that Councillor Nemeth had breached that council’s code of conduct and recommended that the cross-party Standards Panel today finds the same.
But Councillor Nemeth said in an email to the investigating lawyer: “The more that I read through the various accounts and articles, the more that I am angry about this whole thing.
“People are fed up with lying politicians. They give us all a bad name.”
On The Vote, the politics and current affairs programme on Latest TV, the local television station, Councillor Nemeth said: “If somebody lies, are you allowed to call them a liar? That’s what it’s going to boil down to.”
And at the weekend he said: “I welcome the opportunity to point out what lies were told during the Hove Library fiasco but do have serious reservations over the cost of this trial at a time when the council is cutting adult social care and children’s services.”
Councillor Morgan has pointed out that he was quoting a report prepared by council officials for the policy and budget choices that he spelt out.
In a case pack included in the paperwork for the council Standards Panel that will consider the complaint today, he said: “Agenda and minutes from all other committee meetings in 2015 and 2016 … were also considered and no relevant or additional information was found.”
But at the crucial Policy, Resources and Growth Committee meeting at the Friends’ Meeting House last June, Conservative councillors produced a red card or leaflet which they said lied about their position.
Councillor Ann Norman produced the Labour leaflet, which accused the Conservatives and Greens of planning to close seven branch libraries, and said that it wasn’t true.
And Councillor Joe Miller said: “You’ve tried to hoodwink us … Threatening to close seven community libraries as you have said in your leaflet and across the press currently as a result of a £330,000 saving – we have already heard today from the officers that that saving is not true.
“You are essentially lying to the public, lying to us to try and force this ideology of moving Hove Library through and it’s not appropriate.”
Councillor Morgan did not respond to the allegation of lying – nor did he speak about the leaflet although Conservative councillor Tony Janio called on him to retract the claim on his party’s “dreadful” leaflet – which was “a scandal” – and apologise.
Despite Councillor Miller’s claim that Councillor Morgan lied, he is not believed to be the subject of a complaint or investigation.
The Standards Panel will consist of three councillors – Tom Druitt (Green), Alan Robins (Labour) and Nick Taylor (Conservative) – and an independent lay member Diane Bushell.
It is due to meet at Hove Town Hall in the council chamber at Hove Town Hall at 2pm. The hearing is open to the public.