A COUNCILLOR has been urged to “consider his position” after he was accused of bringing Mid & East Antrim Borough Council “into disrepute”.
The comments directed at Bannside TUV councillor Timothy Gaston were made at the main monthly meeting of the Council on Monday night.
The row centres on remarks made by Cllr Gaston at a meeting regarding rates last year regarding the disclosure of “confidential commercial information”.
The Mayor, Cllr Maureen Morrow, called on Cllr Gaston to address the chamber saying he was “required to make a statement to the Council by the Ombudsman”.
At Monday night’s meeting in Ballymena, Cllr Gaston said: “I wish to make a statement regarding a speech I made in this chamber on the 13th of February, 2019, regarding the disclosure of confidential commercial information that I shared during an open session of Council.
“The information was commercially sensitive and the subject of a closed publication report. The figure that I stated was set aside for the purpose and remedial works of property proposed to be acquired by the Council.
“Although this didn’t have a bearing on the non-sale I now accept this disclosure wasn’t in keeping with the Code of Conduct or Standing Orders in this chamber.
“I am happy to live and learn”.
He said he had now “completed training” with the Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy about “what can be disclosed in public session”.
Cllr Gaston added: “In the future I will think more carefully before discussing matters of this nature in open session and will specifically check and refer to the publication status of any written reports I intend to rely on.
“I will also in future seek advice and guidance from senior council officers where I am unsure of the confidentiality requirements of any information prior to commenting or discussing it in public.
“I trust that this brings the matter to an end”.
However, it wasn’t the end of it.
Ald Audrey Wales, a DUP representative in the Ballymena area, told the council meeting: “Cllr Gaston called into question the integrity of not only this Council but every individual councillor.
“We need businesses to know as a Council we can conduct our business professionally and confidentially and I hope this is the last time Council is called into disrepute.
“We as a Council should see all correspondence regarding this investigation by the Ombudsman Given that Councillor Gaston has apologised we can assume that he has been found guilty.”
Cllr Gaston responded: “There seems to be much speculation. I think that is up to the Ombudsman to disclose what they wish to disclose.
“I was asked to do what I have done tonight and I think we should close this agenda item and move on to some proper business.”
Anne Donaghy said she heard what Ald Wales had asked for and said she would make an enquiry.
Alderman Paul Reid (DUP, Larne) said: “I have listened very carefully to what Cllr Gaston has said and also what my colleague Alderman Wales has said.
“I can remember well what was said in ‘closed council’ and I think Members should listen very carefully that whenever we are given a warning that what is said in closed council should remain in closed council.
“This is an indictment on the Member. He is a senior Member of this chamber and really he should be considering maybe possibly his position”.
When that comment brought murmurings, thought to have been from the TUV benches, Alderman Reid said there was a “lot of yapping” coming from a section of councillors.
Ald Reid added: “We have Standing Orders for a purpose and it is a sad day when Elected Members do not adhere to Standing Orders and go out of this chamber and tell public of what is going on.
“Standing Orders are there for a purpose and let it be a lesson to all”.
Cllr Gaston added: “Can I just point out that this was a comment made in this Chamber. I had the guts to say it in this chamber where many Members have taken it outside the room and ran to reporters.”