'We need to do what people want of us'
A COUNCILLOR suspended from office at Shaftesbury a month before the election says he has no intention of getting back on the town council.
Richard Thomas, who in August last year was alleged to have insulted the mayor Lester Dibben in public, was handed a two-month suspension in April by the organisation governing standards in local government for bringing the council into disrepute.
Mr Thomas said: "I announced my intention two years ago not to seek re-election to the town council this year, and have no intention of trying to seek co-option or re-election after the suspension ends next month."
Now Shaftesbury's new mayor, Councillor Tim Cook hopes the council can move on.
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He said: "I sincerely hope that this means we can look outwards rather than inwards, and that our problems are in the past. We need to get on with doing what people want of us and be there for them rather than looking back."
The suspension, imposed by a standards committee convened by North Dorset District Council, came at the end of a period of wrangling which saw more than 50 allegations made against Mr Thomas during his decade as a town councillor.
The strife prompted four councillors to stand down in May 2008, forcing a by-election in two wards.
Complaints investigated by the standards board cost between £3,000 and £3,500, met by the town council from its council tax precept.
The cost of a number of the complaints resulting from in-fighting over two years prompted North Dorset District Council to ask Mr Dibben and Mr Thomas to see a professional mediator at a cost of £4,000.
Further issues in 2009 resulted in the suggestion of more mediation at a cost of an estimated £2,400.
Mr Dibben said: "It's a great shame it has taken so long for people to recognise the problems because it has cost the council an awful lot of money. It's got to be close to £100,000.
"The standards process could have dealt with it a long time ago, and it's a pity it wasn't dealt with more strongly in the first place. The bottom line is that all the ratepayers will benefit and that can only be a good thing."
Mr Thomas, who has always maintained the complaints were politically motivated, said he did not accept the blame for the disruption which has been caused and the cost to the community.
He said the great majority of complaints had been dismissed and had been made against him and not by him. Those made by him had been in self-defence. He agreed that thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money had been wasted because of a Code of Conduct which had been discredited.
He said: "The whole thing has been ridiculously long-winded, and is absolute stupidity."
Mr Thomas was suspended as a result of an incident reported in the Western Gazette in October 2010 in which it was alleged he had used an insulting word against Mr Dibben in the presence of the deputy mayor and a member of the public after a committee meeting in August.
At the recent standards committee hearing Mr Thomas was also alleged to have sought to bully the council by asking for an item referring to disciplinary action as a result of the incident to be deferred.
He was also accused of being intimidating by emailing alleged threats to the mayor.
The complaints were referred to a monitoring officer, appointed by North Dorset District Council, whose report was referred to the standards committee for a hearing.
The bullying allegation was dismissed, but the committee found he had brought the council into disrepute by failing to treat others with respect and being intimidating.
Mr Thomas challenged the outcome of the hearing, the date of which he said he had not been informed of, and said that he had not received official notification of the result until after the May 5 elections.
He said the only reason he knew of his disqualification was because he was asked at the town assembly at the end of April why he was sitting with the other councillors.
He said: "I knew nothing about it. It is an absurdity."