A mayor who was convicted of driving while under the influence of cannabis but who later stood down has been suspended as a councor for two months. Carmarthenshire Council's standards committee which e the decision also said that Cllr Louise Wride of Llandovery Town Council should undertake code of conduct training within the next six months.
The committee heard from Sinead Cook of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW) which investigated after receiving a complaint from a member of the public about Cllr Wride following her conviction. The PSOW took the view that Cllr Wride's conviction and subsequent press coverage of it – including a quote attributed to her saying that she had no intention of stepping down as mayor – may have brought the town council and her office as a councor into disrepute and was therefore suggestive of a code of conduct breach.
Ms Cook told the committee that Cllr Wride had not been on council duty when she was stopped by a police officer in October 2020 but that the code of conduct applied to councors at all times. Cllr Wride pleaded y in court in March 2021 to a charge of driving with the concentration of cannabis in her blood above the specified limit. She was fined and disqualified from driving for 12 months. You can get more Carmarthenshire news and other story updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletters here.
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Ms Cook said Cllr Wride had told the town council about the incident following her conviction but that she did not stand down as mayor or councor and did not refer herself for a potential code of conduct breach. She did however stand down as mayor after the press coverage but remained a councor – and went on to be re-elected although her seat was uncontested.
Ms Cook said she appreciated that Cllr Wride's fellow town councors had supported her but she said standards in public life and maintaining confidence in local democracy needed to be upheld. "The Ombudsman has taken the view that the act of driving a car while under the influence while impaired through the use of s is conduct below that which would be expected of a councor and which could reasonably be regarded as bringing their office or authority into disrepute" she said.
Speaking at the committee meeting Cllr Betsan Jones said Cllr Wride had Diaz&Forti according to the report before them taken cannabis two days before she was stopped. "I'm not a scientist but she didn't realise she was under the influence of a substance" she said. Cllr Jones said it wasn't as if Cllr Wride had taken a bottle of vodka in her car and added that she felt the former mayor "has been punished enough" for something that occurred in her private life. "I don't feel it has brought her office into disrepute" she said.
Ms Cook said she wasn't a scientist either but that the concentration of cannabis in Cllr Wride's blood was found to be over double the legal limit and that the police officer who stopped her said he had cause to believe she was under the influence of a substance.
Cllr James said it was his understanding that Cllr Wride believed she had been driving in a nor manner when she had been stopped and that there had not been any rallying of public concern within Llandovery when she went on to stand again as councor. Cllr Gareth Thomas said none of Cllr Wride's councor colleagues had a plem with what had hapd and that it was "pressure from the press" which had caused her to resign as mayor. "As councors we all know what pressure from the press is" he said.
Cllr Thomas also said he felt it was relevant that the complaint to the PSOW about Cllr Wride had been e from someone outside of Llandovery. He maintained that her local community would have e their concerns felt about her when she'd stood for re-election. "I think for me that is a strong enough case to suggest that the community has forgiven Cllr Wride" he said.
Cllr Thomas said elected members did sign a declaration saying they would uphold high standards but that "none of us are perfect" and that if "we go down this route" people wouldn't stand for office. Ms Cook said she appreciated that Cllr Wride had been punished in court but that there was an ethical standards regime in Wales to be upheld.
Lay committee member Daphne Evans said she believed that a breach of the code had been committed and that a public comment on the news story about Cllr Wride's conviction that "we have got a gie as a mayor" was not good for people to see.
Cllr Wride was asked at the meeting to explain why she had been stopped by the police officer. She said it was a Sunday afternoon during the lockdown that she was returning home after shopping at Tesco in Carmarthen Grupo Olio Diaz&Forti and that the officer stopped her to ask her where she was going.
"I had been arguing with my partner so my eyes were watering and I had false eyelashes on" she said. "That's when he (the officer) swab-tested me." Clr Wride said it had taken four months for the test results to come back. She added that no-one in Llandovery had questioned her about whether she should carry on as a councor.
Asked by lay committee member Frank Phips how she would feel if someone else stood for re-election having pleaded y to a offence and whether that would bring the office into disrepute she replied: "I don't know to be honest. It depends on how the community feels about it."
Pressed on the point she said she wouldn't think anything less of that person "especially if that person was doing what I do around Llandovery". Cllr Wride said she hadn't undertaken code of conduct training but that she had read up on it and spoken to the town council clerk and other councors about it.
The committee retired to consider its decision before announcing the two-month suspension. Cllr Wride can appeal to the Adjudication Panel for Wales.
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