Tue, 25 Sept 2018
THE leader of West Berkshire Council has defended the decision not to inflict greater punishment on a colleague who shared a post suggesting transgender people had a mental illness.
In March, councillor Dominic Boeck (Con, Aldermaston) retweeted a post stating that there were “two genders but three options; 1 male 2 female 3 mental disorder”.
The tweet was attached to an article about a student who claimed that there were only two types of gender being evicted from a classroom.
Mr Boeck said he had inadvertently retweeted the offensive material and claimed that the complaint against him, brought by Newbury Labour Party, was politically motivated.
Following the subsequent backlash, Mr Boeck stepped down from his role as portfolio holder of health and wellbeing on the council’s influential executive committee.
And last month the council’s governance and ethics committee ruled that Mr Boeck had breached the local authority’s code of conduct.
However, at a meeting last Thursday, a member of the public, Gabriel Stirling, asked why Mr Boeck had not been removed from the executive committee altogether.
Council leader Graham Jones replied: “The [governance and ethics] committee took into consideration the fact that councillor Boeck had already removed the offending tweet, had publicly apologised, had cooperated with the committee and investigator and resigned from his post as portfolio holder for health and wellbeing.
“Importantly, they did not request that councillor Boeck be removed from the executive, even though they had the ability to do so.
“As members of the advisory panel and governance and ethics committee are very experienced in these matters and had taken considerable time to assess the complaint in some detail, I value and accept their advice.
“I am confident that councillor Boeck does not hold the views of some of those taking part in the Twitter thread that he inadvertently retweeted.
“If he did, he would have no place in the executive or the Conservative group.
“Councillor Boeck understood that, although he would never discriminate against any group, there might be some in the LGBTQ+ community who would feel concerned about him chairing the health and wellbeing board given the nature of the retweet.
“He, therefore, unilaterally took the decision to step aside from that role to reassure this community that West Berkshire is a safe and tolerant place for them.
“It is worth putting on record that I agree with the governance and ethics committee assessment that councillor Boeck was seeking to draw attention to a thread rather than endorsing a transphobic view.
“It is for those reasons that councillor Boeck remains on the executive.”
Mr Stirling replied: “Should you not show leadership and not have him in any position?
“And also make sure that you as a council do not endorse any views that are at odds with the values you are supposed to uphold?”
To which Mr Jones responded: “I would draw attention to some of my comments earlier.
“This has gone through a fairly long process, which has included members of the opposition Lib Dem party, who clearly do not endorse the view that you just suggested.
“I am tolerant of many things, but I am intolerant of intolerance.
“As I know that councillor Boeck does not hold the views that are being ascribed to him, I didn’t take an issue with appointing him to that role.
“I work in a field where inevitably, human mistakes get made.
“I believe we actually need a culture where we learn from genuine mistakes.
“I believe councillor Boeck had a lot to offer that portfolio, however he took that decision to move on.”