Tue, 14 Aug 2018
A SENIOR Conservative councillor who shared a social media post saying that transgender people were mentally ill broke the local authority’s code of conduct.
A special governance and ethics committee meeting was held last Wednesday to determine what course of action should be taken against Dominic Boeck (Con, Aldermaston).
Mr Boeck argued that he had inadvertently retweeted the material and claimed that the complaint against him, brought by Newbury Labour Party, was politically motivated.
In March, Mr Boeck had 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.
Speaking at last week's meeting, Mr Boeck said that he had sought to highlight the article as “a threat to freedom of speech” and had inadvertently retweeted the offensive post connected to it.
Newbury Labour Party filed a complaint on behalf of an anonymous person who said they had been offended by the retweet.
Last Wednesday, a committee of seven Conservatives ruled that their colleague had breached the council’s code of conduct.
Mr Boeck’s high profile as a member of the council’s influential executive committee was deemed to have elevated the nature of the material.
Independent solicitor Elizabeth Howlett, who was appointed by the council to investigate the complaint, said she found the shared post “especially disrespectful in that it equated transgender with mental illness”.
She said: “This is not just any councillor. This is a member of the executive... which is as high profile as you can get on West Berkshire.
“My conclusion was that there would be people who would be following him on Twitter because he was a councillor.”
She said her conclusion would have been different if Mr Boeck had been a backbencher.
Following the backlash, Mr Boeck subsequently deleted his reposting of the comments.
His Twitter profile stated that: “Retweets from me do not signify endorsement.”
Shortly after the retweets, Mr Boeck was made the council’s executive member for health and wellbeing, which has been promoting mental health in the district.
Newbury Labour Party argued that Mr Boeck should be stripped of his post.
However, Mr Boeck resigned from the position before the hearing and he has been made the council’s member for corporate services, which includes digital communication.
Saying that Mr Boeck only had around 130 followers on Twitter at the time, Anthony Pick (Con, St John’s) asked Thomas Tunney, who made the complaint on behalf of Newbury Labour Party’s executive committee, whether this was a relatively small number to make a complaint about.
“I don’t think so at all,” Mr Tunney replied. “I think what’s in the public domain is important no matter how many people follow it.”
Another of Mr Boeck’s retweets, referring to cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard, recently defeated in his bid for a seat on the Labour Party’s ruling body, was deemed not to have breached the code.
Original poster Rod Bishop published a photo of the transgender comic and said: “Just when you think Labour couldn’t be any more ridiculous they bring in Eddie Izzard.”
Ms Howlett said that in her view the posts were “very much a political comment rather than being disrespectful to a specific individual. Being disrespectful to political parties is very much political tit-for-tat.”
Julie Wintrup, supporting Mr Tunney, said that the party agreed that councillors should uphold the same standards online and offline, regardless of whether they were representing the council or not.
However, she said that labelling the Eddie Izzard posts as “political tit-for-tat” was not good enough when the council was signed up to treating all minority groups equally.
The political element of the complaint was highlighted by Mr Boeck after he was found to have breached the code.
He said that Newbury Labour Party had set out to portray him as “a pedlar of a high-profile stream of discriminatory material that poses a threat to the well- being of residents”.
He added: “The picture they paint of me, rather it is a caricature they prefer to see me as – as a Tory who Mr Tunney said on Twitter they want to ‘unseat’.
“It was a mistake that I regret and it was a mistake that I will not make again. It was a mistake that does not reflect any view that I hold.
“I was brought up to treat others with respect and I have always tried my best to do so. In this case, I failed.”
The committee was advised that sanctions should be proportional to the breach and should take into account Mr Boeck’s resignation, apology and co-operation with the investigation.
Councillors ruled that the committee would send a letter to Mr Boeck notifying him that he had breached the code.
Following the outrage caused by his retweets, Mr Boeck later posted: “I do believe without doubt that people of any gender and sexual orientation must be respected and I will make sure my behaviour online and off reflects that.
“I resolve to look closer at tweets before I retweet them and I regret any offence I may have given in this way.
“I absolutely do not believe that anyone with gender issues is mentally ill.”