A PANEL has been appointed to investigate complaints about councillors behaviour towards Andover Town Council staff.

As previously reported in The Advertiser, Andover Town Council is currently suspended from operating after the town's mayor Richard Rowles placed all five full-time members of staff on leave amid concerns for their safety and well-being.

An interim local town clerk, Tracy Predeth, has been appointed to oversee the grievance process, following an extraordinary general meeting held on Thursday night.

Councillors also approved proposals for Tracy to appoint a grievance panel and solicitors to investigate complaints. 

The mayor is hopeful this will pave the way to getting the town council back open for business but said it is important that conditions are made safe for the employees first.

Speaking to The Advertiser, Cllr Rowles said: "We’ve formed the panel. The panel have been tasked with getting the council operational again from a staffing point of view and progressing the grievance procedure.

"We have already got a human resources consultant who is going to produce a report for us and then we will be able to take it from there.

"There are two routes [from here forward] – the council itself has done something wrong and will be subject to an employment tribunal or there will be grievances found against individual councillors."

The panel was approved after a dramatic emergency meeting held on Thursday night.

A group of councillors tried unsuccessfully to thwart the mayor's attempts to pass the vote to approve the new interim clerk.

Cllr Rebecca Meyer and Cllr Christopher Ecclestone proposed and seconded a motion to propose that the deputy mayor, Cllr Lauren Banville, replaced the mayor as chair of the meeting “due to the two official code of conduct complaints from two sitting town councillors against Cllr Rowles".

However, Cllr Rowles told them that were “out of order" and denied the motion, dismissing it as a "deliberate attempt to derail the meeting".

Councillors subsequently voted to appoint Ms Predeth as locum proper officer and responsible financial officer, following an amendment by Cllr David Coole which was passed by the council.

The council then began to discuss the appointment of a grievance panel, at which point Cllrs Ecclestone and Meyer again moved a motion, this time to close the meeting “on the basis that there is no known grievance".

Cllr Rowles again denied the motion, saying that the council’s legal counsel had advised the council to take this step, on the basis that members of staff had raised concerns about their conditions.

He said: “If we were to vote, even with the possibility of ending the meeting, it would put the council itself in legal jeopardy.”

Cllr Meyer said that by denying the motion, the council was “not going to let democracy go".

She said: “This wouldn’t happen at borough council level, but it does at Andover Town Council level. Do not believe in democracy at Andover Town Council.”

Cllr Jo Coole also gave her concerns over the process, saying that the process “seems back to front.”

The motion was passed and a grievance panel was set up.