Town Hall howler: Listen to recording of women eyeing up councillor

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A NORTH YORKSHIRE council has been caught up in a sexism row after two women were caught making disparaging remarks about a male councillor during a meeting.

The whispered exchange was picked up by Ryedale Council’s own recording system and published on its website following a meeting on September 3.

Eric Hope. Picture by Richard Ponter

Eric Hope. Picture by Richard Ponter

In the back and forth whisperings one person asks the other to imagine the councillor without their clothes on, to which the other replies ‘God, I’d rather not’.

The victim of this exchange appears to be the previous speaker, Cllr Eric Hope, who, 59 minutes into the meeting, had just finished introducing changes to the council’s gambling policy.

Chairman of the committee, Cllr Val Arnold, then puts the item out to a vote.

Following some silence two female voices can be faintly heard in the recording.

One says: “Have you ever heard such a convoluted question..” Before the recording drops out for a second,

Following a brief mumble another voice states: “Just imagine him with his clothes off?”

After the reply to the negative a voice is heard saying “oh that’s flashing away” before the recording goes silent, suggesting the speaker has realised a microphone had been left on.

The next voice is a male officer announcing the vote had passed.

There were nine female councillors at the meeting, including chairman Val Arnold, along with the council’s chief executive Janet Waggott.

Ryedale Council would not confirm who made the remarks.

A spokesperson said: “We are aware that a complaint has been made by a member of the public and are investigating the matter.

“The part of the recording which was inappropriate and caused offence has been removed from the council website.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Cllr Hope said he had not heard the exchange but admitted “it is a very strange comment to make.”

He said he would like to listen to the recording himself before making any comment.

The illicit conversation was discovered by Howard Croft, a columnist on the Malton and Pickering Mercury newspaper. He wrote in the paper: “It does seem to me to be inappropriate for members, at a time when they are considering weighty matters – Wentworth Street car park, fracking and so on – not only to be indulging in unwholesome sexual fantasies about their colleagues, but also to be feverishly inviting others to join in.

“Who knows what wrong buttons may get pushed and with what unfortunate consequences?”

He added: “One has to take care what one says in the workplace. There was a time when a chap might without fear remark to his secretary, ‘I say, Doris old thing, that’s a jolly pretty frock you’re wearing today. The colour suits you awfully well.’ Those days are over.

“Now such a comment, if reported by Doris, or indeed by anyone else, would have the Human Resources Department immediately calling a meeting of the Ethics and Professional Standards Committee to investigate the matter and Doris’s boss would be put through the ringer, forced publicly to apologise and possibly lose his job. 
“It is more common for men to fall into this trap, but I assume that the same standards apply to women who fail to manage their urges in a professional situation. But will anyone send for a policeman?

“One feels for Councillor Hope and, of course for Mrs Hope if there is one.

“The councillor has every right to expect that his colleagues will admire him for his political acumen, the fine qualities of his mind and his keen judgement, not for his trim figure and his firm buttocks.”