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Absentee Councillor’s Replacement To Be Chosen in January

Published on: 14 Dec, 2022
Updated on: 14 Dec, 2022

By David Reading

Ash Parish Council is to co-opt a new member in January to replace Cllr Helen Gorham, one of two councillors who controversially remained in post even after moving 60 miles away to Wiltshire.

The new member will represent Ash Vale Ward until the next elections on May 4, 2023.

Cllr Gorham resigned on November 29, hours before a meeting was due to be held to decide if she should be disqualified.

See also: Absent Parish Councillor Resigns Hours Before Disqualification Meeting

The events leading up to her resignation have severely damaged the reputation of the parish council in the eyes of some members of the public.

Part of the Ash Parish Council vacancy notice. Click here to see full notice on the council’s website.

In September 2020, Cllr Gorham and her husband Tony, also an Ash parish councillor, moved away to the Marlborough area of Wiltshire. They refused to stand down.

The rules state that councillors are allowed to live outside the area where they serve, but they must attend at least one meeting every six months. This was at the root of the controversy that followed.

During the pandemic councillors across the country were permitted to attend meetings online. But in the spring of 2021 a High Court ruling meant that they had to be physically present at meetings.

Yet despite this ruling, Mr and Mrs Gorham continued to attend meetings held online – but never in person.

The Conservative-dominated council – under its chairman Cllr Nigel Manning – continued to insist that this online attendance was legitimate.

By November 2021, six months had elapsed since the High Court ruling and it appeared both councillors should have been disqualified, having failed to attend a single meeting in person during that time.

But Cllr Manning said he had been advised, in an unrecorded and unconfirmed phone call with the National Association of Local Councils, that their online attendance was permissible.

Despite hearing legal advice from two further sources that the couple’s membership was unlawful, the council steadfastly maintained that their online attendance was above board.

In May 2022 the council voted to pay for a barrister to clarify the position at a cost of £2,400 to the parish. Only two councillors, both independents, have voiced their dissent.

Despite contrary opinions from GBC’s monitoring officer and the chair of the Surrey Association of Local Councils, the barrister’s opinion was that the online meetings attended by Mr and Mrs Gorham were held correctly and they were entitled to remain as councillors.

Resignation of Cllr Helen Gorham

On November 14, Cllr Manning announced that it had come to his attention that council minutes showed that Helen Gorham had not attended any meeting – whether online or otherwise – for six months since April 2022.

But the chairman said it was his recollection that Mrs Gorham had attended more recently than April. And so he had asked the clerk, Dennis Wheeler, to investigate what the records showed.

A meeting was planned for November 29 to discuss the matter, but hours before the meeting Cllr Gorham resigned. Her reason was not made public.

All applications to stand as her replacement on the council must be received by 12 noon on January 5, 2023. Details of how to apply are on the parish council website.

To be formally considered they will be required to attend the full council meeting on January 9 to answer questions raised by members about their application and suitability.

 

 

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