Standards rulings focus on semantics over substance, says councillor who drew complaints

A councillor who has faced two “standards hearings” after complaints from the public has defended his records.

Conservative councillor Robert Nemeth, who steps down in May after representing Wish ward for eight years, said that he wanted to defend councillors who “don’t thrive” under the pressure of a standards complaint.

He made his comments at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council last night (Thursday 2 February) as councillors considered the annual review of council standards. The review said that councillors were the subject of 26 complaints last year.

Of these, 23 were made by members of the public. Conservative councillors, the smallest group on the council, were the subject of 14 complaints. The Greens, the largest group, drew 10 complaints.

At a meeting of the full council at Hove Town Hall, Councillor Nemeth criticised the process for focusing on language rather than the substance of his comments.

Councillor Nemeth said that he was speaking out about “essentially attempts at bullying councillors and wasting their time”.

He said: “I also want to highlight how badly staff time and public funds are used in pursuing a large portion of the standards agenda.

“My first brush with the standards board was during the campaign to save Hove Library. I took particular exception to a claim that seven libraries would close if Hove Library were to stay open.

“It’s not something I would necessarily repeat, but I said something like it was a lie. Not long afterwards, councillors of two parties went from supporting the proposed closure to opposing it, so Hove library stayed open.

“Following a standards complaint, I ended up having a day on trial, with former (Green) councillor (Christopher) Hawtree as my expert witness.

“Time has shown the claim was not correct. Standards weren’t concerned about that, which I felt was the scandal, but rather the obsession with the semantics of how I pointed it out on one occasion.

“The next time was over pre-covid rough sleeping figures which I suggested were far too low and demonstrably false.

“Housing experts Andy Winter and Jim Deans lined up as my witnesses – and the figures were shown to be wrong. As soon as covid assistance measures really kicked in, the figures were shown to be wrong by a factor of four.

“Rather than focus on how the council could be so wrong, which was again the scandal, in my view, the obsession was over the semantics of the word false.

Councillor Robert Nemeth

“I was once in the Royal Sussex County Hospital. I sent a one-line email to someone on my council phone saying I was going to be late for something because there was no signal on my own phone. That was deemed to be a standards matter.

“Most councillors here, even in a meeting like tonight’s full council, can say or do things regularly that could lead to an investigation looking to the questions being asked and lots of the answers given.

“Lots of the speeches that have been made could easily be deemed disrespectful. All you need is someone to say they’ve been disrespected.

“I hope you’ve got my point and I make it from the heart.”

Outside the meeting, Councillor Nemeth said: “The reality of the so-called Standards Board is that councillors who are accused of serious matters such as fraud, lying in meetings, racism or sharing photos of another councillor’s young children escape attention.

“But those who have attracted the attention of numerous local cranks get reported regularly. All it takes is for somebody to pretend that they are offended for an investigation to take place. I’m certainly not going to waste my time arguing over semantics.”

Councillor Siriol Hugh-Jones

In the council chamber, Green councillor Siriol Hugh-Jones referred to a comment made by Councillor Nemeth on social media last month about complaints.

Councillor Hugh-Jones said: “One councillor in particular regards complaints as a badge of honour and seems keen to collect as many as possible. Unfortunately, these cost the council in terms of time, resources and reputation.

“So I’d like to thank Councillor Nemeth for his personal contribution to the budget in his announcement that he doesn’t intend to stand for re-election.”

Nine complaints were made about Councillor Nemeth after a story in the Daily Mail last February although the review did not name him or any other councillor.

The Mail story was headlined: “Parent fury as Brighton primary schools tell staff NOT to say ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ and use ‘grown ups’ instead to avoid stigmatising ‘non-traditional’ families.”

In response to the article, the council said: “Recent reports claiming four Brighton schools are not allowing the words ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ to be used are untrue.”

Two of the complaints about Councillor Nemeth – “E/2022” and “J/2022” – were referred to a council standards panel in December, with hearing dates yet to be set.

  1. Yibblet F’tang Reply

    You have done an excellent job for your ward Rob. Leave Phelim and his ship of fools to continue the ruination of the city. So glad we moved.

  2. Nuwang Reply

    “So I’d like to thank Councillor Nemeth for his personal contribution to the budget in his announcement that he doesn’t intend to stand for re-election.”

    Mic drop

  3. Gift Reply

    Facing defeat he does a runner

  4. ChrisC Reply

    Well his departure will save a lot of other peoples time!

    You’d think after the first complaint that he’d start to think more carefully about what he wrote and said but he didn’t get that message.

    The issue is not that he raised concerns but how he raised them. Just as in Parliament you can’t call someone a liar or a fraud so you use words like ‘misrepresented’ it’s the same in local government.

  5. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    It was certainly a memorable afternoon when I appeared as Expert Witness for cllr Nemeth in the Trial brought against him by cllr Morgan.

    As aspect of this not mentioned here is that in his submission cllr Morgan asserted that he had been doing the right thing in going by the figures for the repair/moving of Hove’s Carnegie Library as stated by Head of Libraries Sally McMahon.

    So what is the point of being a councillor if one is simply going to rubberstamp officers’ assertions? As cllr Nemeth and others (including former cllr Sykes) showed, the figures in that Report had been flagrantly loaded, and it was thrown out at a Policy and Resources meeting in June 2016.

    As it happens, I began my speech by congratulating cllr Morgan! Time and again he had said that he was too expensive to run Hove’s Carnegie Library – and yet, as I observed, in the very week of cllr Nemeth’s Trial, cllr Morgan had announced that he would supply £700,000 for work on Saltdean Library. I still puzzle about he equated that.

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