Conservative councillors are fighting to oust a North Herts Council leader Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg amid a misconduct row.

As part of a motion signed by all 19 Tories, cross-party councillors will vote on whether to remove Councillor Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg (Lab) as their leader on Tuesday, April 18.

The Hitchin Walsworth councillor faced a standards probe last year after she spoke to local media about the contents of a closed meeting, where council members discussed Covid-19 safety following the death of their colleague.

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A misconduct process ended when Cllr Dennis-Harburg apologised for her behaviour, but Conservative Group leader Cllr Claire Strong said she felt “bullied” in the meeting and claims disclosing confidential information brought the office of the leader “into disrepute”.

Speaking about the upcoming motion to depose her, Cllr Dennis-Harburg told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “My apology was accepted by the complainant.

“I am disappointed that the leader of the opposition is using a full council meeting as an attempt to reopen the complaint which has previously been resolved.”

In statements published in The Comet and on Hitchin Nub News, Cllr Dennis-Harburg revealed that “in a closed meeting”, both the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups wanted to restrict in-person attendance at council meetings.

She said in January 2022: “The leader of the opposition Claire Strong stated only 20 per cent of people actually get seriously sick from Covid as justification for cramming all 49 members into the council chamber”.

She added: “A number of councillors are worried for their own safety, and that of those they have at home with vulnerabilities.

“We believe no councillor or officer should be made to feel unsafe going about their duties.

“The loss of Paul Clark is also a very fresh wound.

“The Conservatives have demonstrated a manifest lack of care, and responsibility.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Clark, who was deputy council leader under Cllr Dennis-Harburg, died from Covid-19 on December 7, 2021.

According to data, there were 8,445 new reported Covid-19 cases in North Hertfordshire in the 31 days following Cllr Clark’s death.

As part of their code of conduct, councillors in North Herts must not “disclose information” which is confidential, except in a limited set of circumstances.

Councillors must not bring their role “into disrepute”.

Cllr Morgan Derbyshire launched a rule breach complaint in January 2022, and an external investigator found Cllr Dennis-Harburg had a “case to answer” related to both of these rules.

Some misconduct probes can be resolved if “the member acknowledging that their conduct was unacceptable and offering an apology”.

Cllr Dennis-Harburg’s apology was formally accepted on December 5, 2022.

“By way of an explanation, but not as an excuse, I want to make clear that at the time, I was deeply distressed by the death of my deputy leader, Cllr Paul Clark, who passed away due to Covid-19 in December 2021,” she wrote.

“I felt that a decision to hold a meeting with all members in attendance could pose a serious health risk due to the rise in numbers of those infected with Covid-19 at the time.

“However, I fully accept that, as set out in the external investigator’s report.

“I should not have disclosed confidential information to Hitchin Nub News and the Comet.”

Cllr Claire Strong, leader of the Conservative Group, believes the leader should step down from her post over the incident.

At a Standards Committee meeting on March 22 this year, she said: “Standards in public life is probably the topic of the day.

“Perhaps we should be looking at standards in public life particularly in our own council.”

Cllr Strong said: “This is a serious matter, as I am sure we all agree here.

“The information that was released came from a confidential meeting, as it is noted, held on January 7, 2022.

“I was in that meeting.

“I know when I left that meeting, I felt I had been bullied and I felt somewhat verbally abused in front of colleagues and officers.

“Following that meeting, I had to read Twitter posts against me, and then there was a letter submitted from Cllr Dennis-Harburg which talked about myself to the Hitchin Nub.

“We were given an opportunity as a party to respond to the words that were written.

“We felt what has gone on was unethical and went against the code of conduct, and undermined the office of the leader.”