June 12, 2014
Burnham Mayor defends 'fair and unpoliticised' selection of councillor

Burnham-On-Sea's Mayor has this week defended the process by which a new town councillor was selected last week, saying it was fair and not politicised.

We first reported last week that Andy Brewer had been selected to fill the vacant Highbridge seat on the council following the resignation of Alan Miller due to poor health.

Burnham resident Andy Brewer, pictured with Mayor Cllr Martin Cox, was chosen following a ballot of councillors.

However, Lib Dem councillor Helen Groves objected to the manner in which the selection was carried out. "The Conservatives voted on block, except for one member, which meant Mr Brewer - a Burnham resident - won due to the party's majority on the council," she said.

But Cllr Cox told this week: "I feel the whole process was democratic for several reasons. The position was advertised inviting applications from the public. An additional applicant could have been sponsored on the night. The Town Clerk was very careful to follow the recommended practices of SALC (the Somerset Association of Local Councils) on how to vote in a co-opted place on the Council."

"Also, Cllr Groves' proposal to have a show of hands from our Councillors was resoundingly defeated. The vote was therefore taken on named ballot papers. The conservative councillor’s votes were spread amongst three candidates and the result was a clear victory for Cllr Andy Brewer."

"I hope on refection Cllr Miss Groves sees that her statement was in haste and without foundation."

But Cllr Groves has hit back, saying she remains unhappy. "I am disappointed by the response of Councillor Cox. As Mayor there is a responsibility to be impartial and a duty towards all members and both towns."

"Councillor Cox would appear to be somewhat confused, I acknowledged that the process is democratic in so far as councillors voted and a majority decision was made but was very clear that it utterly lacked the founding principles of democracy in the determination to deny information to the public. I do stand by my view that the process was not ultimately open and transparent."

"Some of this I believe to have resulted from lack of clarity over what the process was. There was no advertising of the fact that any person could turn up on the night and put themselves forward and as such not only did no member of the public have this information and therefore opportunity to “engage” in this “democratic process”, but as the information was not made known until the meeting itself, the majority of “democratically elected members” did not know either. Certainly no information regarding this was provided to my group until the day itself and it did not form any part of the advertisement from the Town Council which invited applicants to collect and return an application by the Tuesday deadline."

"Nor were applicants advised either within the documents they were provided that they would need to be proposed and seconded by a councillor, this information was not advertised. When applicants collected their applications I am informed they were advised that the decision would be made by a show of hands. This is consistent with the information I was given until the day of the meeting and that it would be done by ballot was only made known to me one hour before. Some members still were unaware of this at the beginning of the meeting and as such there was no possibility that any member of the public could have known."

"I see no grounds at all to consider withholding the information about which Councillor voted for which candidate from the public. The Nolan principles set out that the only reason one should do so is to protect the wider public interest. The Local Government Act deems information to be confidential only in instances in which personal or financial information is involved – this was neither. Given the highly and overly political nature of this council it is extremely important in my view that where councillors are making fundamental decisions about the delivery of democracy that every effort should be made to protect the public interest and this cannot be done with secret ballots!"

"The Conservative group did not vote for three different individuals. They rather bizarrely proposed and seconded two Conservative Party members and one other. They then all voted for Conservative Andy Brewer with the exception of one Conservative member who voted for Conservative Roger Keen. This is permissible within the rules but as representatives of the public we all have to account for our actions and decisions. If the Conservative group felt that their decision was sound there should be no need to keep it and the reasoning behind it out of public sight. The claim from the Mayor that this was otherwise I assume to be a confusion on his part as to the difference between voting for a candidate and proposing one."

"I would like to make absolutely clear I have absolutely no personal issue with Mr Brewer. I feel terribly sorry for him to find himself caught in the middle of a mess and sincerely hope he understands that my concern is for the very people he wishes to represent. The worst thing about this whole episode in my personal opinion is the utter lack of concern that was demonstrated towards the rights of the public to hold their elected representatives to account - this, above all, I consider to make a mockery of the democratic principle."

"In absolute honesty, this most recent debacle and many others such as the fiascos of the Highbridge Hotel and the Boatyard development cause me to question whether the 80 year-old arrangement of a joint parish is still appropriate and capable of delivering more than a lip service democracy to the people of the towns."


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