17 April 2015

Town Council Procedure After 7 May Elections




HPT has received some enquiries as to the procedure for co-option etc of new town/parish councillors.

This has arisen because of the failures of New Mills Ollersett and Thornsett wards to field sufficient candidates for the upcoming New Mills town council elections on 7 May 2015.

This will result in six casual vacancies on this council - one in Thornsett and five in Ollersett.

Here is what happens in this situation:

First, the casual vacancies have to be advertised etc, and the electorate given the opportunity to call by-elections for the vacancies.

If ten electors of the relevant ward(s) call for an election rather than co-option by the council, then that is a by-election.  It is then organised by High Peak Borough Council's Returning Officer on behalf of the town.

If by-elections are not called, then co-option of new councillors is undertaken by the town council.

The following is what NALC's Governance Toolkit for Parish & Town Councils (page 103 in the 2009 edition (v3)) says about the procedure to be adopted by a council in the even of co-option:


"Voting by Council on Casual Vacancy ('Co-Option')

In the case of co-option the following procedure should be followed:-

(a) Notice of the intention to co-opt to the vacancy should be given in the agenda for the meeting of the Parish (Town) Council;

(b) When the item is reached, the Chair should call for nominations, which should be duly proposed and seconded;

(c) When all the nominations have been received a vote should be taken.  It is usual for the candidate's names to be put in alphabetical order;

(d) The person co-opted must receive a majority of the votes of those Councillors present and voting at the meeting where the co-option takes place.  Where there are more than two candidates for one vacancy, this rule means that a person must get a majority of votes over all the other candidates.  Thus where candidate A receives four votes, and candidates B and C each receive two, A is not elected because he has the same number of votes as B and C put together and does not have a majority over their combined votes.  Where there are more than two candidates it is desirable to eliminate the candidate with the least number of votes, so that the final vote is between two candidates only;

(e) After the vote has been taken, the Chair should declare the candidate who received the highest number of votes duly elected;

(f) The person elected must make a declaration of acceptance of office before, or at, the first meeting of the Parish Council following his election in the presence of a member of the Parish Council or the Proper Officer of the Parish Council. The declaration is then retained in the parish records. The person elected will need also to undertake to abide by the Parish Council’s Code of Conduct.

NOTE:

There is nothing preventing Councillors from approaching persons to offer themselves for co-option or even advertising for applicants.  Applicants might also be invited to provide a written “application” or invited to speak to the council prior to any voting.  If such arrangements are to be applied, they should be carefully drafted and provided to applicants.  It is imperative that all applicants are treated alike in order that the arrangements are seen as fair.  Applicants under such arrangements must not undertake any lobbying."


16 April 2015

New Mills And Hayfield General Election Hustings




A reminder of the dates and venues for our local parliamentary hustings.

The following are the announcements from the groups that have organised the hustings:


Friday 17th April 2015

Organised by Churches Together at New Mills Town Hall, SK22 4AT from 7.30pm.

Chaired by Rev John Overton of St George’s Church and a representative of our Churches Together group.

There is limited, free, parking in front of the Town Hall and in two car parks off Market Street. Parking for disabled people can be found at the rear; or on street parking.

(Questions were to have been submitted by 10th April to Michael Brueck at mjbrueck@live.co.uk or 28, St George’s Road, New Mills, SK22 4JT. Representative questions will be put to candidates)


Wednesday 29th April 2015

Organised by Sustainable Hayfield at The Royal Hotel, Hayfield 7-30pm.

Candidates will be asked to give a brief opening statement about their plans to promote a sustainable, fair society, and respond to questions from those submitted in advance.

(Questions were to have been sent to Cath Moss at cathmhayfieldsustain@btconnect.com or at 3, Fishers Bridge, Hayfield, High Peak, SK22 2JZ by April 15th)


13 April 2015

New Mills Ollersett Ward: No Candidates For Town Council Election



The following official Notice has today appeared on High Peak Borough Council website, following last Fridays's 'Returning Officer Omits An Entire Electoral Ward' article on HPT:

"Notice of Uncontested Election

High Peak Borough Council

Election of Parish Councillors for Ollersett Ward of New Mills Town Council

on Thursday 7 May 2015

I, Simon Baker, being the Returning Officer at the above election, report that no candidates were nominated for Ollersett

As New Mills Town Council is quorate, elected Councillors may co-opt councillors to fill the remaining seats"

Following the election on 7 May, there will be six councillors in place on New Mills town council.

There should be twelve councillors on this town council.

Therefore, the formal co-option proceedings for the six vacancies can be expected to start shortly after the new councillors meet as a council for the first time on 18 May 2015.


11 April 2015

Election Candidate Under A Cloud Over Money Queries In Town




The New Mills Carnival accounts for the year to 31 December 2014 make disturbing reading for supporters of transparency in charity and community finances.

Gross fundraising.was £5,267.  Expenses were £7,462. A loss of £2,195 therefore resulted for the 2014 calendar year.

But the figures bear closer scrutiny.  In the expenses is an item for "Bad debts" written off of £2,503.

The Notes to the Accounts read as follows:

"Bad debt

"This is the net balance of funds that remained unbanked by the former chairman, Jeff Lawton, at the end of the 2013 Carnival.  Because of the difficulty in obtaining accurate information some of the amounts used in reaching this figure have been estimated.  Due to dispute over the amounts involved it is believed unlikely that this will be received."

This issue was brought to HPT's attention on the same day that the Lawton name features NINE times on a one-page Statement of Persons Nominated just published by High Peak's Returning Officer.  This is the candidates list for the New Mills town council ward of Whitle in the upcoming town council elections.

Members of the local Lawton family have their names as proposers or seconders etc next to several of the candidates in this one election to this one town council.



10 April 2015

High Peak Returning Officer Omits An Entire Electoral Ward




Yesterday, 9 April, the nominations closed for all of the elections to be held in the High Peak on 7 May 2015.

The elections are for the constituency's Member of Parliament, for High Peak Borough Council, and for all the town and parish councils in the High Peak electoral area.

At regular intervals during the day HPT Editor logged on to the 'Elections' part of High Peak Borough Council's website.  But at the end of the day one entire Ward still seemed to be missing from the website information.

All the MPs' candidate names are there.  One each for Conservative, Labour, LibDem, Green, UK Independence Party.

All the candidates' nominations for Borough Council wards are there.  So far as New Mills is concerned these are New Mills West, New Mills East, and Sett wards

But a strange state of affairs manifests itself when one scrutinises the nominations for New Mills Town Council (called a parish council in electoral officer-speak).

The three New Mills parish council wards are Whitle Ward (five seats on the town council), Thornsett Ward (two seats), and Ollersett Ward (five seats).

The Returning Officer has certified that Whitle Ward has the following people nominated for the five town council seats:

 ATKINS, Ray;  BATE, Barry;  DOWSON, Lance;  FERNS, John;  GARSIDE, Kath;  GASKELL, Josh;  LAMB, David;  LAWTON, Jeff;  STEVENS, Alistair (nomination subsequently withdrawn, was a nomination of the Conservative Party);  WHEWELL, Sean.

The Returning Officer has certified that Thornsett Ward has the following person nominated for the two town council seats:

ASHTON, Tony  (This shortfall of one candidate means there will be at least one immediate vacancy on the New Mills town council)

However, Ollersett Ward appears to have no persons nominated for election according to the High Peak Borough Council website at 16:00 on Friday 10 April 2015.


The above situation can presumably only mean one of the following three scenarios has happened.

Either:

1)  The HPBC website is accurate, and there are literally no candidates for the New Mills town council from the Ollersett Ward.  Or;

2)  There are nominations for the Ollersett Ward, but the Returning Officer's staff has erroneously not posted them on the HPBC website.  Or

3) All of the five Borough Council candidates for New Mills East Ward have also been nominated for the equivalent New Mill town council ward, which is Ollersett, and HPBC has in error omitted to post this information on its site.

We await clarification of the accurate position from High Peak Borough Council regarding New Mills town/parish council Ollersett Ward nominations (if any) and elections (if any)



NOTE:  Following publication on Friday 10 April of the above article, on Monday 13 April the High Peak Returning Officer belatedly published the official notice on HPBC website confirming that (1) above is the situation.



04 April 2015

Election Candidates Nominations Now Closed





High Peak Borough Council says:

Voting

On Thursday 7 May High Peak voters go to the polls to elect their MP and their borough, town and parish councillors.

Your name must be on the Electoral Register to be eligible to vote. The Register is compiled annually. You can register online at any time by going to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

To vote in this year’s General Election you have to be registered by 20 April at the latest.

If you can’t get to a polling station on the day you may be eligible to vote by post or by proxy.

More details on voting, including application dates for postal and proxy votes, are available here.


Standing for election

Handing in Nomination Papers:

Local Government Nomination Papers can be delivered to HPBC between 9.30am and 4.30pm every day (apart from the last day) from 24th March until 9th April 2015. Cut off for delivery is 4pm on 9th April.

Parliamentary Nomination Papers must be delivered by hand between 10am and 4pm from 7th April until 9th April. Cut off for Parliamentary delivery is also 4pm on 9th April.

Nominations must be delivered by hand to The Board Room, Municipal Buildings, Glossop. We will not accept any Nomination Papers that have been posted in to us, or left in the post box at Municipal Buildings.

We are encouraging anyone wishing to hand a Nomination Paper in to make an appointment. This will reduce waiting times and will ensure that you are seen promptly by a member of the Elections team. To make an appointment, call us on 0345 129 7777 extension 2133.

(The above paragraphs are extracts from HPBC website - nominations now closed)


High Peak Transparency says:

Have you been reading this site and tut-tutting and thinking you can do better than some of the present councillors in the High Peak?

Then stand for election and let everyone see how you would improve things.

If you are dishonest or corrupt, or knowingly make false statements, or stay silent and inactive in the face of dishonesty, corruption or serious mismanagement in public life, then you will be exposed.  If you are honest and decent and stand up for transparency in public life and for what is right then you will be applauded.

Time is running out, so get your nomination papers from High Peak Borough Council and return them in good time.

(Note added 10 April 2015 - Nominations now closed.  The candidates listings will be published here shortly)


03 April 2015

Textbook case of how not to do things on a local council






The following comments came in yesterday.  The research to provide the answers to the questions asked has thrown up a textbook example of how New Mills Town Council came to become dysfunctional for a long period.

Presenting this example here means that present and future councillors have this lesson from local history right in front of them, in order to improve local government in the future.


Here are the three comments which sparked the research:

"How many of the current councillors were present when the ex-clerk had her rant against Chantal Hannell who was possibly the best and most honest councillor we have ever had ?"

"Chantal Hannell was honest and straight.
This meant that on New Mills town council she was never going to fit in with alleged cllr Alistair Stevens and the then town clerk Susan 'Tapegate' Stevens (subsequently sacked for gross misconduct)"

"The question was how many of the current councillors were at the meeting.
I would like to know this as it will of course affect my vote..I cannot believe Councillor Dowson would stand by to such an action?"


Here is what the primary historical sources say, from the time of the events:

Firstly, the date of the council meeting that was asked about.  This was Monday 22 February 2010.

The minutes of the meeting show that councillors present were Huggy Hawley (chairman), Tony Ashton, Beth Atkins, Ray Atkins, Lance Dowson, Jacqui Gadd, Mark Gadd, Chantal Hannell, Steve Sharp, Alistair Stevens.


Secondly. here is how the Buxton Advertiser reported the meeting in two articles a few days later:

"Row over cash sparks walkout

"A COUNTY councillor stormed out of a meeting during a pitched battle over a new games
area for New Mills.

"Beth Atkins told her fellow town councillors that they seemed determined to prevent any new projects she suggested for the area, adding: "You go out of your way to stop things happening. If that's the way you feel I am walking out of here."

"The row erupted over fears that 30,000 of funding, from the County Council, would be lost because of the lack of progress on the scheme for land at Ollersett.

"The community grant, awarded to Ollersett United Community Hub, was for a multi-user games area (MUGA) to be created on the town council-owned land.

"However several conditions needed to be met for the funding to be released including who would take on the future liability and maintenance of the MUGA, planning permission, and further details about its organisation.

"Cllr Lance Dowson said: "This is a conversation we should have been having 12 to 18 months ago. If it had been properly organised and administrated we could have worked together and would now have £30,000 coming into the town. I suspect it is going to be lost."

"Cllr Steve Sharp said: "If the money is not allocated by February 28 we will lose it altogether."

"But Cllr Atkins said that was not what she had been told and claimed: "You are just doing your utmost to stop it taking place. Local people want it to happen."

"Councillors questioned the future cost of the MUGA, what sort of surface would be used, its
maintenance and insurance costs.

"We were told there would be no cost to this council, so who looks after it?" said Cllr Mark Gadd.
Cllr Atkins said the cost would be very minor. Discussions had taken place and several quotes had been provided. She asked for the matter to be deferred for further information.

"The council agreed to write to Derbyshire County Council to check on the funding.

" * After the meeting it was revealed that the £30,000 has been allocated for New Mills by the county
council."

"Second councillor storms out

"A HEATED argument over how enquiries sent to councillors are answered led to a second councillor, Chantal Hannell, walking out of the same meeting.

"The issue had been raised after four councillors had asked the same questions of the Clerk Susan
Stevens on behalf the same resident.

"Mrs Stevens said any matters related to finance needed to go through her as she was the responsible
financial officer and would respond and copy in councillors to the reply.

"Cllr Lance Dowson said perhaps some training about which enquiries it was appropriate for a
councillor to deal with should be given.

"During a forceful exchange of views, various points were raised including what councillors should do when residents wanted to remain anonymous.

"Cllr Hannell said before she left: "I don't sit on the council to be screamed at. It's disgusting."



Thirdly, as part of his lengthy, vindictive conduct complaints campaign against other councillors, Cllr Lancelot Edgar 'Captain' Dowson made a malicious standards complaint against Beth Atkins following this town council meeting.

Mrs Susan Stevens gave the following statements as part of that process:

"COMMENTS OF SUSAN STEVENS

"Mrs Stevens has spent 10 years as Clerk to New Mills Town Council, having
previously worked for the Local Authority in an administrative role. Cllr Mrs
Atkins has been a Town Councillor for some 3 years, Cllr Dowson has been a
Town Councillor for over 10 years. Mrs Stevens produced an audio file of the
Town Council meeting of 22 February 2010 which XXXX XXX listened to
relevant sections of. This included comments by Cllr Mrs Atkins such as ‘you
are doing the utmost to stop this from taking place’. Within the meeting, Cllr
Mrs Atkins stated, when insurance was mentioned ‘I am waiting for Susan to
come back on this’. Mrs Stevens then quoted, at the meeting, the figure of
£790 per year (£760 plus IPT) as an increase in the Council’s insurance
premium. Another Councillor asked Mrs Stevens what effect this would have
on the precept. Mrs Stevens said she had not calculated this. The meeting
was acrimonious in terms of Members seeking to obtain additional
information which Cllr Mrs Atkins did not appear to have.

"Mrs Stevens produced a string of emails within the period 7 - 12 March 2010
(enclosed as exhibit SS1). In terms of her particular comments in
connection with these:

"1. Email of 7 March 2010 - Cllr Mrs Atkins asked for information with regard
to the Management Plan, maintenance routine and running costs for a
netball / basketball court. Mrs Stevens responded on 8 March 2010
indicating that there was no such regime. Cllr Mrs Atkins said this was
‘just like a MUGA you mean’. Mrs Stevens corrected her to make it clear
that play equipment and a large multi-sports surface was different.

"2. Emails of 11 March 2010 - Cllr Mrs Atkins suggests that she has not been
given information with regard to insurance. Mrs Stevens denies this. Mrs
Stevens indicated that following discussions it was agreed by Councillors
that information with regard to such things as insurance should be sent
out to all Council Members rather than one individual Member. Mrs
Stevens had been prepared to provide the insurance information for the
22 February meeting but Mrs Stevens confirms that she was requested by
the Leader of the Council not to include information related to insurance
within the supporting papers as the intention was to defer the agenda item
because other information requested had not been prepared. Only after
22 February when the figure was questioned, did she then send the quote
out to inform the Council that she had sought and acquired the insurance
details which they asked for.

"3. On 15 March Mrs Stevens produced and circulated to all Councillors a
copy of an insurance quotation obtained from Zurich Insurance stating
that the additional insurance, based on an assessed value for the MUGA
of something in the region of £40,000 was £760 plus Insurance Premium
Tax (enclosed as exhibit SS2).

"Mrs Stevens indicated that the comment about the MUGA made by Cllr Mrs
Atkins on 8 March was unfortunately typical of Cllr Mrs Atkins ‘point scoring’
approach.

"Mrs Stevens had a particular concern over the site for the muga. It was on
the site of a football ground, a site in respect of which the Council had
obtained a grant of £17,000 from the Football Foundation. She felt it her duty,
as a Responsible Finance Officer to point out that the grants might become
repayable if a football field were to become unusable by virtue of having a
multi-use games area placed upon it.

"Mr Jeff Lawton, a local resident and prospective Councillor had stated to Mrs
Stevens that she should be aware that negative comments were being made
about her by Cllr Mrs Atkins. Mrs Stevens felt upset and undermined. She
entered into correspondence with Mark Trillo, the Monitoring Officer, for High
Peak Borough Council. Whilst Mrs Stevens found it difficult to bring a
complaint, Mr Trillo suggested it might be appropriate to give guidance
generally on conduct and other issues to Town Councillors. However, before
this action could be followed-up, Cllr Dowson’s complaint was submitted
under the Code of Conduct (MT offered to discuss Cllr Mrs Atkins’ behaviour
with her in an email of 1 April 2010 which Mrs Stevens responded to on 16
April - (see exhibit SS3 - parts a and b).

"Within this period, Police Constable Taylor of Derbyshire Constabulary called
in the Town Hall to discuss a range of matters with Mrs Stevens. He stated to
Mrs Stevens that she should be aware that a conversation had taken place at
the official opening of the Children’s Centre where Cllr Mrs Atkins had alleged
that Mrs Stevens was personally trying to stop the MUGA from going ahead.
PC Taylor was accompanied by PCSO XXXX XXXX who asked Mrs Stevens
why she was objecting to the MUGA. Mrs Stevens explained that she had no
objection at all and was very keen to get as many facilities for the Town as
possible, but the issue with respect to the potential reclaim of grant monies by
the Football Foundation was something which she was duty bound to point
out.

"Mrs Stevens also understood from Mr Brian Wood at the Derbyshire
Association of Local Councils (DALC) that Cllr Mrs Atkins had asked for a
copy of Mrs Stevens Employment Contract, but apparently had not discussed
why. Mrs Stevens understood that Mr Wood had asked Cllr Mrs Atkins to
request a copy from her but Cllr Mrs Atkins had not had such a conversation
with Mrs Stevens.

"Mrs Stevens felt undermined and upset by Cllr Mrs Atkins’ behaviour. It has
caused her sleep problems, to be in tears and dreading the next email from
her. When asked if there might be any explanation for this behaviour, Mrs
Stevens mentioned that her husband was Parliamentary Candidate for the
Liberal Democrats in the recent General Election, but that Cllr Mrs Atkins who
is also Lib Dem was unhappy at his selection and refused to campaign in
support. Mr Stevens was ultimately unsuccessful, receiving some 11,000
votes against the winner’s 21,000.

"Mrs Stevens was asked whether she would regard herself as generally a
sensitive and emotional person. She said that she felt she was generally
quite impervious to criticism, but Cllr Mrs Atkins’ behaviour was beyond the
grounds of acceptability. More recently, Cllr Mrs Atkins has avoided
conversations with Mrs Stevens at all and ‘blanked’ her on a number of
occasions.

"Mrs Stevens stressed that she did not wish to raise a complaint herself as it
might lead to further problems within the Council but would be pleased to
receive an apology, a retraction of the negative comments made about her by
Cllr Mrs Atkins to third parties and an understanding that she would behave
with more sensitivity in future."


What lessons can be learned from the above events, regarding councillors and councils ?

Two town councillors (Cllrs Glyn Jennings and Beth Atkins) had put in a lot of work and effort to bring a good community facility to New Mills East ward (a new Multi-use Games Area 'MUGA'). Personal animosities by some other councillors against these two - animosities which had nothing to do with the merits of the facility - led to the community being deprived of a valuable asset.

--------------------

Councillor Chantal Hannell was screamed at in a council meeting by the then town clerk of New Mills Mrs Susan Stevens.  Mrs Stevens being allowed to get away with this wholly unacceptable behaviour in a town council meeting bolstered her sense of invincibility in her job and her belief that she was 'made' and unsackable.

--------------------

The valuable Standards Board of England was undermined - and ultimately abolished - as a result of a multitude of malicious, vindictive complaints against councillors by councillors like the ones Captain Dowson specialised in. This Standards Board abolition has now resulted in appalling conduct in local government, like the bullying and intimidation of female councillors and staff by alleged councillor Alistair Stevens, going unpunished and in fact now being unpunishable.

--------------------

The MUGA case study is a practical example of one of the bad extremes in council behaviour.  This extreme is 'Hostile factions form and then concentrate on scoring points and undermining their opponents at the expense of properly carrying out the functions of a council'

The opposite bad extreme in council behaviour is just as bad and is even more damaging.  This is called 'Closing ranks, covering up, and denial of evident wrong-doing'  This is the way the Labour-dominated New Mills town council was run between 1999 to 2007, when it was rightly thrown out of office.

--------------------

The above two extremes are neutralised and defeated when two good things are present on a council: Firstly, genuine transparency in the business of a local council.  Secondly, enough honest people of good will who are assertive and vocal when they see wrong-doing being attempted.

Which is where the comments about former councillor Chantel Hannell came in.


31 March 2015

Dishonest Former Town Clerk Loses Tribunal Claim: Sacking Upheld




The New Mills Town Council has comprehensively won the legal claim brought against it by the dishonest former town clerk.

Ex-town clerk Mrs Susan Stevens had claimed wrongful dismissal and/or unfair dismissal.  In addition, she was looking for a large sum in financial compensation and costs etc to be paid to her by the council as her former employer.

All her claims have been rejected in a sensational judgment following a week-long hearing at the Employment Tribunal sitting in Manchester in early March.

It can now be revealed that the leaders of High Peak Conservatives, Borough Council Conservative Group Leader Councillor Tony Ashton and Association Chairman Mr Jeff Lawton, supported the dishonest former town clerk at the Tribunal.  Cllr Ashton appeared as a witness in person for Mrs Stevens.

Some local New Mills conservatives left the High Peak Conservative Association in protest at the line the High Peak conservative leadership was taking by supporting dishonesty and misconduct in public office in this case.

This whole expensive and devastating chain of events, culminating in today's dramatic court judgment, started when Dishonest Ian Huddlestone, who was the chair of New Mills town council, instructed the then town clerk Mrs Stevens to fabricate some town council minutes.

Dishonest Ian Huddlestone told Mrs Stevens to conceal an item about a fake 'village green' claim in New Mills from the published minutes of a council meeting, and then to reinstate the item in the minutes after friends of a Labour councillor failed in their attempts to buy the land.  A substantial sum of money was involved in this fraud.

Dishonest Ian Huddlestone is a Labour Party member of High Peak Borough Council.


24 March 2015

Challenge to local Conservative Party candidate Jeff Lawton about his Heritage Centre claims





It is totally clear from New Mills Town Council meetings minutes, and from the council Budget that has recently been set, that Conservative candidate Jeff Lawton is telling deliberate lies about the Heritage Centre in the town.

Mr Lawton is putting it about that the Heritage Centre is going to be closed by the town council.

It would seem that he is telling deliberate lies about the New Mills Heritage Centre to promote his personal ambition to be a local councillor.

At Borough Council level, there are personal financial allowances paid to councillors.

Mr Jeff Lawton is using the good name of the national Conservative Party, and that Party's literature, to spread false rumours on the subject of the Heritage Centre.

The Conservative Party has been brought into disrepute by Mr Lawton's claims about this subject, which is dear to the hearts of quite a few people in New Mills.

Some people would perhaps understandably conclude that if Mr Jeff Lawton will tell deliberate lies about this, then there are other things he would lie about as well.

Therefore, Conservative Party candidate and chairman of the High Peak Conservative Association Mr Jeff Lawton, here is an open challenge to you:

Deliver your evidence, ANY evidence, that the New Mills Heritage Centre is going to be shut down.

This site will publish your written response in full, verbatim, in its own prominent standalone article, to this demand for your evidence regarding the Heritage Centre.  If you actually do have any evidence for your claims, that is.

So, Mr Jeff Lawton, on the subject of your false statements about the New Mills Heritage Centre being under threat of closure, it is now over to you.  Don't bother posting any more of your anonymous comments on here: send in any evidence that supports your claims about the New Mills Heritage Centre, and attach your name to it.

Our email address is highpeaktransparency@btconnect.com