Watchdog suspends Councillor Maxine Smith for one month after 'maternity leave' claim
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Highland Councillor Maxine Smith has been found to have breached the code of conduct on two counts – and been slapped with a hefty one month suspension.
The panel found that she had failed to “timeously” register interests and for acting in a prejudicial way against a pregnant fellow councillor by having “not advanced equality of opportunity.”
The issues stem from the period directly after the 2022 local government election when Cllr Smith failed to register two business interests – something she admitted but denied doing intentionally believing the register would carry forward.
The second charge was that she had suggested that fellow ward Councillor Tamala Collier was ill-suited to sitting on the North Planning Applications Committee because she was pregnant and may go on maternity leave.
At the time, Cllr Smith said the ward needed members on the committee representing it to be “continuous and consistent” – which was ultimately deemed by the panel to be “discourteous” and had “not advanced equality of opportunity.”
The veteran councillor who is currently the co-leader of the Highland Alliance denied the allegation that she had ever been prejudiced against another woman and the panel accepted her motive was born of her passion for the planning committee.
The panel’s verdict noted that Cllr Smith “accepted that she had failed to record in her register of interests” her involvement with the Venus Beauty Salon and Thistle Excursions following her re-election in May 2022.
But it concluded that “it was not in dispute” that she had breached the code by “failing to timeously register the shareholdings in question”despite multiple warnings from the council, which she said she disregarded believing they did not apply to her.
It was found that she ignored multiple warnings from the local authority to update the register but had disregarded them because she believed that they were for new and not returning members like herself.
When she was told by an official that she had to register her interests she had done so at the first opportunity but that was not sufficient for the panel who found that it was a breach of the councillors code of conduct.
On the second issue regarding Cllr Collier it was again “not in dispute” that Cllr Smith sent an email where the question of acting inappropriately arose with “Councillor A” being Tamala Collier.
The email stated: “...the council's North Planning Applications Committee needs someone who can be continuous and consistent. We need two from our ward. As councillor A has a conflict of interest, I suggest that councillor B takes up the other position – you can discuss.”
The real issue arose in response of the investigation of that email when Cllr Smith raised the issue of Cllr Collier’s “pregnancy or intention to take maternity leave” – in fact she did not take maternity leave.
The verdict concluded: “The panel acknowledged the respondent’s position that it had not been her intention to discriminate against the complainer's [James Collier] wife and noted that her aim had been to protect the committee given her passion about planning and to ensure that two councillors from her ward were present on it.
“The panel considered nonetheless that given the respondents only admission that she did not put the complainer's wife forward due to her pregnancy and assumptions about any maternity leave meant that the respondent had failed to advance equality of opportunity.”
And that constituted a breach of the code.