Ex-mayor disciplined after column broke council rules

Maggie Prior, Conservative candidate for Holt in the 2019 North Norfolk District Council election.

Maggie Prior, Conservative candidate for Holt in the 2019 North Norfolk District Council election. Picture: SUPPLIED BY THE CANDIDATE - Credit: Archant

A town councillor has been disciplined over articles in a local free paper which were found to have "breached election law".

Maggie Prior, mayor of Holt from February 2017 to May 2019, published her mayor's report along with an article which said a food store would be built on the former site of Thaxters Timber and Forestry in local free magazine, The Holt Chronicle in April 26, 2019.

However, it emerged that the details were released without the full permission of the council.

A number of complaints to North Norfolk Council (NNDC) standards committee claimed the columns had "breached election law, abused her public office and issued unauthorised articles, purporting to be from Holt Town Council".

Complainants said Ms Prior was publishing the articles with the intention of gaining an advantage in the May 2019 local elections.

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An NNDC standards committee meeting was held on March 3 to establish facts around Ms Prior's conduct when releasing the reports, whether she had failed to treat others with respect, and whether she used Holt Town Council resources other than in accordance with its requirements when publishing the mayor's report.

The committee also investigated whether the mayor's report and article published regarding Thaxters Site "seeked to improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage upon any person".

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The investigation concluded that Ms Prior had breached the council's code of conduct but recommended she was not be found to have failed in respect of treating others with respect.

However, it found she had misused council resources when publishing the mayor's report and article on the Thaxters site.

It was recommended that the council asked Ms Prior to apologise and that she attends refresher training on council standards.

It was also recommended she was excluded from sub-committees and working groups until the training had been completed.

At a full council meeting of Holt Town Council on December 9, 2020, all councillors, except Bryan Payne who abstained from the vote, agreed to uphold the report and its recommendations, with the exception that Ms Prior would remain on the neighbourhood plan committee.

Holt mayor, Rodney Smith, declined to comment on the disciplinary action and Ms Prior has been contacted for comment.

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