October 6, 2008
MacLaren Apologises Over Parent Leak Claim
By Alan Roden; Gemma Fraser
Education chief says sorry as Flex cleared of talking to NewsEDUCATION leader Marilyne MacLaren has finally apologised to a parent she wrongly accused of leaking confidential information to the Evening News.
The Lib Dem councillor has repeatedly been urged to say sorry to parent representative Lynda Flex, whom she kicked off a forum looking at school closure plans. Most recently, a damning investigation found that this mounted to a breach of the councillor's code of conduct.
City Chambers insiders today revealed that Councillor MacLaren sent a letter to Mrs Flex as soon as the findings of that inquiry were known, and it is understood she invited her back to the forum.
But this will not end the pressure on Cllr MacLaren, with a report from council chief executive Tom Aitchison due later this week. That will give opposition politicians the chance to grill her at this month's full council meeting, and administration insiders today admitted they are preparing for a vote of no confidence.
Mrs Flex has also made a complaint to the Standards Commission, which has the power to censure, suspend or ban councillors from public office for up to five years. Its inquiry is ongoing.
City leader Jenny Dawe today defended Cllr MacLaren. She said: "I feel that Marilyne should be able to comment publicly, but because the Standards Commission investigation is ongoing, it is very difficult for her to do so. She should not resign. Marilyne has taken action and she [wrote the letter of apology] immediately."
Former head of corporate services Dr Ralph Musgrave carried out the council's internal investigation. He was unable to identify the leaks' source and said the evidence against Mrs Flex "is, at best, circumstantial and not incontrovertible". He called for Mrs Flex to be reinstated on the forum.
Opposition councillorshave already said the findings raise questions about Cllr MacLaren's "professional judgement and ability".
One City Chambers insider said today: "Marilyne has sent a letter to Lynda Flex. The question now is whether the administration has the confidence to leave Marilyne in charge of a very tough schools rationalisation project.
"Opportunities for an opposition don't come along like this very often, and the administration is ready for a vote of no confidence later this month."
The cross-party group looking into the school rationalisation plans, set up last year, is made up of parent, teacher and church representatives and politicians.
Discussions were to stay confidential, and no reports or minutes have ever been made public.
After the Evening News printed a story in April which named the primary schools facing the axe, Cllr MacLaren accused Mrs Flex of leaking the information, claiming she had "incontrovertible proof".
But Mrs Flex was not the original source of the story and did not contact the Evening News. Mrs Flex today declined to comment. But Cllr MacLaren confirmed that she had sent a letter to Mrs Flex apologising for "certain issues", and that it would have been received more than a fortnight ago.
She said: "This would have been before the Evening News article. I can also confirm that the chief executive will bring a report to the council on October 16.
"I am not able, or allowed, to comment any further, until the investigation has been completed. However, there are two sides to a story."
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