Mark James should be suspended, say MP and AM

South Wales Guardian: MP JONATHAN EDWARDS: "Vital questions remain unanswered." MP JONATHAN EDWARDS: "Vital questions remain unanswered."

MP JONATHAN Edwards and AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas are calling for the suspension of Carmarthenshire County Council chief executive Mark James after questioning his role as local returning officer for May's European election.

The move comes after Mr James "stepped aside" from his Chief Executive role following a police investigation into claims by the Wales Audit Office that two transactions involving him were "unlawful".

In a question to David Jones, Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Edwards called for the UK Cabinet Office to introduce a protocol prohibiting suspended public officials from undertaking electoral duties.

Mr Jones confirmed the UK Government’s awareness of a police investigation and said that the government was "monitoring" events in Carmarthenshire.

Just hours later in the National Assembly, Mr Thomas questioned the Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Local Government Minister, on Mr James undertaking the electoral role whilst being suspended from his post.

Ms Griffiths stated that Mr James had not been suspended and that he remained the chief executive and Head of Paid Service.

Whilst taking further questions from AMs, the Minister was then passed a statement which stated the Mr James would not be undertaking his duties.

“E-mail correspondence shown to me suggests the Labour-Independent leadership of Carmarthenshire council has intentionally not suspended the chief executive in order to allow him to continue in his electoral officer role," said Mr Edwards.

“This contradicts the forceful position taken by a Labour AM who has called for the chief executive of neighbouring Pembrokeshire Council – also the subject of a police investigation – to be removed as Returning Officer in the upcoming European elections.

“The complete lack of leadership and the failure to formally suspend the Chief Executive in the first place – for the benefit of both the council and Mr James himself – has left many important questions unanswered. It has highlighted further uncertainties about his departure and has the potential to undermine the integrity of a police investigation.

“Following my question to the Secretary of State we now know UK Government is monitoring events in Carmarthenshire. This is a serious intervention from the UK Government which should make the council leadership sit up and think about the position it has taken.

“Carmarthenshire residents deserve an urgent public statement from the Labour leadership of the council about the exact terms and conditions of the chief executive’s departure in which the council leader needs to explain why the chief executive was not formally suspended during this police investigation.”

Mr Thomas said Ms Griffiths' comments exposed the "farcical decisions" taken by the leadership of Carmarthenshire Council Council "which has brought embarrassment on the county".

He added: “There is a police investigation underway into two Wales Audit Office reports yet the person at the centre of those reports remains in office.

"Carmarthenshire residents will understandably believe they have been misled by statements from County Hall which suggested the chief executive is no longer in his post while the police investigation was on-going.

“It is clear the only way in which public confidence in County Hall and the electoral process can be restored is if the chief executive is formally suspended from his duties or if a motion to the full council is presented to remove the electoral duties from the Chief Executive’s responsibilities.

“We call on the Labour leadership of the council to take the necessary steps or Plaid Cymru will not hesitate to act in the public interest and bring that motion to the next meeting of the council.”

County Hall insist the role of returning officer is separate from the role of chief executive.

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