Tim Wills resigned on Friday October 15 after anti-racist campaign group HOPE not Hate said he allegedly sent messages to a Telegram chat associated with Patriotic Alternative.
PA is described on Wikipedia as a British far-right, white nationalist group.
Council leader Dan Humphreys (Con, Offington) said that he asked the now former Marine councillor to ‘deny allegations against him or resign’.
WBC opened an investigation into Mr Wills under its code of conduct and the Conservative Party’s complaints board is carrying out a separate investigation – his membership from both groups was suspended.
A demonstration organised by Adur and Worthing Stand up to Racism took place outside the council chamber and some members took part in public question time.
The group wrote an open letter to WBC calling for a ‘thorough and immediate investigation’ to ensure that extremist views are not held by any Conservative councillors.
Call to refer potential for member investigations to JOSC
When this was raised in the chamber, Martin McCabe (LDem, Tarring) suggested that the potential for member investigations be referred to the council’s joint overview and scrutiny committee (JOSC).
All but one Conservative councillor voted against the motion.
Steve Waight (Con, Goring) later clarified why he voted against potential investigations.
He said: “Does Mr McCabe think only Conservative councillors hold extremist views? If so, can he give us evidence to support that?”
There were echoes of ‘Tim Wills’ heard in the chamber in response to this, but mayor Lionel Harman (Con, Castle) said: “I would like to remind members that Tim Wills does not represent all councillors – Conservative or Labour.”
Kevin Jenkins (Con, Gaisford) thought the vote should be taken again.
He explained that Conservative members were under the impression that they were the only ones who could be investigated.
But it was clarified that it would be all members ‘in line with the equalities act’ and another vote was refused by the mayor.
Committee on community cohesion to be established
Mr McCabe also proposed that a committee on community cohesion be formed to ‘tackle harmful ideologies and radicalisation in our communities’.
He said: “We have got to do everything we can to tackle those who would try to hide in the shadows and divide us.”
Members voted unanimously in favour of establishing the committee.
Barriers to minorities highlighted
One Marine ward resident said that people from black and minority ethnic groups faced ‘barriers to being elected’ on the council.
He said: “In light of the fact that the Equalities Act of 2010 places very specific duties upon local authorities – and that each and every member has a central role to play to ensure that equality issues are integral to the local authority’s performance and that it has a strong vision and public commitment to equality to ensure that it’s pervasive of all public services – would it not be prudent of this council to engage positive action to ensure that a person or persons of black ethnicity is enabled and supported to become an elected member of this council?”
The resident said that representation of minority groups on the council is ‘unacceptable’ and ‘disproportionately low’.
Leader Dan Humphreys said: “The Local Government Association tries to encourage uptake of elections of people from more backgrounds in our society and that’s something I agree is very important.
But, he added: “I, as an active politician, can’t get involved – shouldn’t get involved – in the running of elections.”
Another member of the public called for all decisions that Mr Wills was involved in to be reviewed.
She said: “I’m not convinced Worthing Borough Council takes its public sector equality duties seriously.
“Will Worthing Borough Council review all the decisions Mr Wills was involved with to ensure he has not discriminated against residents he feels not to be worthy?”
She said equality measures outlined by the council leader ‘quite frankly aren’t enough’.
A council legal advisor said there is ‘no legal reason to revisit these decisions’ as they were ‘democratically made’.
‘We are here to serve the people of Worthing’
Following the debate, Mr Harman said: “The last few weeks have been quite challenging, in ways none of us could have anticipated.
“Although it’s not my role to get involved in the detail of an individual’s alleged behaviour, I would like to remind all members that we are here to serve the people of Worthing with fairness and in equity and to act in a way that does not bring this council into disrepute.”
Councillors then took part in a minute of silent reflection in honour of MP Sir David Amess who was fatally stabbed last week.
Jessica Hubbard , Local Democracy Reporting Service