Scene: The council chamber in New Mills, High Peak, Derbyshire.
Date: Friday 31 July 2015.
Time: The council meeting was scheduled to start at 7:30 pm, but was a few minutes late due to discussions outside the room involving the council chairman, the town clerk and Mr David Lamb.
The issue being discussed: The identity of the newly co-opted councillors, following ineffective May 2015 local elections for five seats in the Ollersett ward and one seat in the Sett ward.
At about twelve minutes past eight, the council was still discussing the co-option result when Cllr Ray Atkins finally had enough of Cllr Lance Dowson monopolising the speaking time during council meetings.
Cllr Atkins complained loudly about Cllr Dowson’s ‘verbal diarrhoea’ (the exact expression used by Cllr Atkins) that constantly delays progress of council business in the chamber and prevents other members from getting a chance to speak.
The meeting moves on. The clock moves around the dial to 8:30 pm:
Cllr Lance Dowson: I won’t be voting for it. (Editor's note: the co-option proposal that has just been made) I'm not prepared to put myself or the council in a position where they could be open to a very considerable financial obligation. And I would like as a right of a councillor to have a named vote on this issue.
David Lamb: Can I just add, even though what Cllr Ashton just said, believes there are eleven councillors… in front of me is a signed declaration of acceptance of office for parish councillor and that will obviously be part of the evidence there… from the advice given by DALC
Cllr Ray Atkins: Surely a signed declaration means nothing if you weren't elected in the first place. I could go on the House of Commons website and download an acceptance for Member of Parliament for High Peak. It wouldn't make… I wouldn't draw very much salary I can tell you and you wouldn't see me very much in parliament
Unidentified cllr voice (female): Can you take control of this meeting please… it’s half past eight and we’re still…
Chairman Cllr Sean Whewell: It’s an important thing we’re discussing…
Unidentified cllr voice (female): I know it’s important, but we’re just going round in circles.
SW We’re part way through a proposal here…
Cllr Tony Ashton: We've had a proposal and we've had a seconder chair… I suggest we put it to the vote
LD And I've used my right to ask for a named vote.
LD Sorry, but for those that don’t know, that records how people voted for it or against it. And I've made the point that I'm not prepared to vote for it because of the possibility of opening individuals and the council to considerable financial charges.
TA Individuals can not be charged…
RA That’s right. You fail on that Lance, sorry.
LD Don’t take… will you stop taking such stupid joy in…
RA No, Lance. You speak time and time again. Verbal diarrhoea!
LD Calm down…
RA Meeting after meeting after meeting
(Both LD and RA start shouting across each other)
LD Can I just point out if someone’s disturbing the meeting council can ask that he be removed. Councillor Atkins is disturbing the meeting
RA Can we both go out?
Cllr Lance Dowson looks furious. He gets up from his chair and rushes sideways towards the door, like an angry crab.
Readers who are unfamiliar with the layout of the council chamber need to know that the row of councillors that Cllr Dowson was sitting in, in which he was furthest away from the door, has councillors sitting in chairs with their backs close to the wall.
This meant that Cllr Dowson had to squeeze sideways between the middle three chairs and the wall, holding on to the backs of the chairs as he passed, while pulling in his stomach as best he could.
It must be hard to maintain an angry facial expression whilst simultaneously a) sporting a beard; b) sucking your breath in; and c) trying to make sideways progress through a particularly awkward space behind three lady councillors.
Meanwhile, Cllr Atkins also rushed towards the door. His route was unencumbered.
The instincts of retired senior police officer Mike Carter now cause him to jump up and hasten to the door. In his case it was to intercept the superannuated potential pugilists. In a surprising development, it turns out he can move quite fast for someone awaiting serious knee surgery.
‘You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room’ as the president puts it in Dr Strangelove.
In all the years of covering New Mills town council, from a fraudulent ‘village green’ claim over land containing a brick-built sewage works (2002), to a councillor deliberately asking a town clerk to lie to the other councillors (2008), from a compensation culture ‘trip and slip’ claim being made against the town council for a piece of land it has never owned (2015 - story to follow), to a town clerk keeping a lover’s willy pictures in the town council’s safe (2013), I have never seen anything quite like this.
Instead of things like the above, can we please have a normal, placid, efficient, businesslike, time-conscious, honest town council ?
No doubt now that we have a settled membership line-up, four females are on the council, and the selfish misuse of other people’s time at meetings, repetitively and constantly, by just one particular councillor (leading to this incident), has been vividly brought to the new Chair’s attention, the council should now be able to improve things.