17 May 2011

Flouting The Law: Business As Usual For Dysfunctional Council

The first statutory Annual Meeting of the newly elected town councillors in New Mills was held on the 16th of  May 2011.  The local elections had taken place on the 5th of May.  

At this meeting it was shocking to see the local town clerk’s persistent attitude to law breaking.  The town clerk here has access to large amounts of public money, as well as effectively having care and custody of local councillors’ public reputation.

Here is how the law was flouted in this latest of a long series of law-breaking activities inside this town hall:

The legal structure

A Local Council comprises a Chairman and Councillors.  It is a body corporate with perpetual succession and a name.  A local council exists in the above form, and only in the above form, until permanently dissolved by one or other statutory mechanism.

The above legal structure applies to all town and parish councils in England.  There are no exceptions.

No person can be a member of the council and also a paid clerk to the council at the same time (Local Government Act 1972, s116).

The roles of individuals under the relevant statutes

There permanently must be an elected Chairman or woman (‘Chair’).  The duties of the Chair of the council are set out in law.  To cover death or incapacity of the Chair, a vice-chair is elected at the same time.

The Chair must be a member of the Council (Local Government Act 1972, s15(1)).

The Chair of the council continues in office until succeeded in that office by another lawfully appointed councillor.  This legal requirement applies even when the outgoing chair has not stood at the last local election.

If council proceedings at a first annual meeting after an election are opened with the paid clerk in the chair, that is illegal.

The latest activity in New Mills

So, in the case of the 2011 Annual Meeting of New Mills Town Council, who was the person specified in law to chair the meeting’s first business?  Chantal Hannell, the outgoing Chair of the council.

Did the town clerk send the legally required written summons to the 16 May 2011 council meeting to Ms Hannell?  No.

Did the town clerk invite Ms Hannell to the council’s statutory annual meeting in any other way?  No.

Was Ms Hannell - who was there at the meeting in the public gallery - allowed by the town clerk to perform the duties that the law requires her to do?  No.

Did the town clerk, Mrs Susan Stevens, take the role of Chair for the first business of the meeting?  Yes.  Completely unlawful.

Previous Form

See previous entries in High Peak Transparency for guidance to some of the other law-breaking and consistent past dishonesty behind closed doors inside this particular town hall.

Can vindictiveness or malicious intent be considered a reason for breaking the law whilst holding public office?  More than one third party has reported that Cllr Alistair Stevens (the town clerk's husband) and Cllr Hannell had fallen out before this incident.

Councillors: who did what

In fairness to the newly appointed councillors, for whom the above was the first meeting they attended in their new role, these are: Alan Barrow (Labour); Andy Bowers, Gwyn Bowers, David Lamb(Conservative).

The returning councillors who took part in this meeting are Ian Huddlestone; Alistair Stevens; Lancelot Dowson; Janet Carter; Mark Gadd; Ray Atkins.

Cllr Tony Ashton did not attend, sending his apologies to the meeting.