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Highland Council getting personal as two members are to face the standards watchdog

By Scott Maclennan

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Councillors Maxine Smith and Andrew Jarvie.
Councillors Maxine Smith and Andrew Jarvie.

Politics is known for its cut and thrust but complainants appear to believe there was too much cutting and thrusting going on at Highland Council regarding the behaviour of two members.

Caithness councillor Andrew Jarvie was referred to the Standards Commission for Scotland – the watchdog responsible for enforcing ethical behaviour in public and the councillors code of conduct – for comments to the former council boss.

While Easter Ross councillor Maxine Smith was taken up for an alleged failure to declare an interest in two companies and over her alleged treatment of ward colleague Councillor Tamala Collier.

Both belong to the newly formed Highland Alliance group though the alleged incidents occurred before they joined. And both were formerly groups leaders, Cllr Smith led the SNP and Cllr Jarvie led the Tories

'Feeling misled over care home'

Cllr Jarvie, while discussing the fate of a children’s care facility in the county, told the then council chief executive Donna Manson that he was left "feeling misled" after being told Avonlea was closing only for her to say it would not, then it did close.

That looked like it was the final shot in the ongoing war of words between the two, who did not enjoy a good relationship.

Previously, Cllr Jarvie and Cllr Struan Mackie were exonerated by the commission of trying to bully Mrs Manson.

His online hearing is scheduled for March 1.

'I’ve potentially broken a code of conduct'

But in what appears to be an even more personal dispute – two members representing Easter Ross seem incapable of seeing eye-to-eye, with Cllr Smith again finding herself in the news for the wrong reasons.

In a separate incident, she is to stand trial next year accused of faking disabled parking blue badges so drivers of tour buses owned by her could use the restricted spaces – claims she strongly denies.

Cllr Smith also disputes the two counts that will see a hearing take place at the council headquarters in Inverness. The first is failing to declare an interest in two businesses and the second was for her alleged behaviour to Cllr Collier.

In a lengthy post on social media, Cllr Smith denied deliberately failing to declare an interest in the businesses – Thistle Excursions and Venus Beauty Salon for several months after her re-elections in May 2022.

She said: “I had declared an interest in both continuously for many years (15 years for Venus). In previous elections your register of interests carried forward. Apparently last election they didn’t and I, and others, were supposed to re-register them.

“I didn’t know I had to do that. I thought it was just the new councillors so for a few months my interests were not shown on the Highland Council website. It was a complete mistake on my part and totally innocent.

“Others did it too but only I am being reported. It’s not like I’m trying to hide it when everybody knows I have those businesses! I’ve potentially broken a code of conduct so have to answer to it.”

'He reported me for over 15 things'

The second charge is that she allegedly discriminated against Cllr Collier and the referral to the commission was made by the latter's husband James Collier.

Mr Collier said: “Sadly, I have had cause to make a complaint against Councillor Smith. However, I wouldn't wish to say more right now as Councillor Smith is entitled to a fair hearing and I wouldn't like to prejudice that.”

Cllr Smith on the other hand did have plenty to say in her online post: “So in April 2022, James Collier reported me to the body that oversees councillor conduct. It’s called the Ethical Standards Commission.

“He reported me for over 15 things – most he made-up such as he said: ‘I put nails in his drive to cause him to have a flat tyre'. He says he knew it was me because ‘I told someone’!! OK that would be sensible eh?!

“He said I ‘spoke over his wife at a Saltburn Community Council meeting!’ OK right I see. At their meetings everybody speaks at once or they used to.

“Anyway there were several other made-up accusations that the commission dropped. They’ve got to look into accusations and be seen to be doing their job.”

'It’s so unfair that the media drag people through the press'

On the commission charge sheet, she went on: “That I wrote in an email that I wanted Cllr Molly Nolan to be with me in the north planning committee for consistency (and geographical balance as she’s in Evanton), James is accusing me of prejudicing against his wife because she was pregnant and might go on maternity leave. I never mentioned her in the email at all and that certainly wasn’t my reason.

"I’ve never prejudiced against any woman in my life but I now have to prove that he was wrong!”

She added: “My hearing is on February 6 in the council. If found guilty, there could be a sanction recorded against my name or I could be suspended for a period of time.

“I have had to try to work with James’s wife during this whole time with this hanging over me. It’s been a very trying time for me and very difficult trying to avoid him on social media. I’ve been scared to attend meetings where he’s present in case he thinks up another accusation.”

Cllr Smith then concluded by taking a potshot at the initial media reports that were likely taken from the Standards Commission website and published there to inform the public in the interests of transparency.

She wrote: “It’s so unfair that the media drag people through the press before awaiting the outcome. People will remember the article, not the outcome so forever more I’m tarnished.

“It’s very, very sad that the British media can get away with this and that I’ve been accused by the husband of a competitor who was standing against me for election. This unscrupulous way of thinking is beyond me.”

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