Mayor defends 'fair and unpoliticised' selection of councillor
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
resident Andy Brewer, pictured with Mayor Cllr Martin Cox, was
chosen following a ballot of councillors.
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,"
But Cllr Cox told Burnham-On-Sea.com 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 councillors
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."
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."