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Complaints and Anger Follow Parish Council Co-Option While Another Vacancy Arises

Published on: 22 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 22 Sep, 2020

By David Reading

Controversy continues in Ash over the co-option of a Conservative supporter by the all-Tory Parish council.

Residents have taken action in a bid to ensure there is a local election to fill the vacancy on Ash Parish Council left by the resignation of Cllr Graham Eyre. Under the rules, at least ten people must request an election before one can be held – otherwise the council can co-opt a member of their choosing. Within less than a day, more than 20 signatures were obtained.

The move follows the outcry that occurred when the parish council – all Conservative Party members – chose a party supporter to join their ranks and fill the vacancy left by Cllr Paul Spooner, rejecting an independent candidate. Critics feel strongly that the Tory candidate’s selection had been settled beforehand outside the meeting.

Cllr Graham Eyre – his resignation leaves another vacancy

Sue Wyeth-Price, a resident of Ash Green and a leading signatory, said: “A petition for an election really is necessary to allow residents to actually elect a representative. The chairman, Cllr Nigel Manning, may have followed the law when the council co-opted a Tory supporter to replace Paul Spooner, but we believe the way this was done showed complete disregard for any semblance of democracy.

“The contempt for residents is unbelievable. How can we have confidence in a council who appear to vote as instructed by their leader rather than on the wishes of the residents? And how can we have confidence in the new councillor who, it seems, only allowed himself to be co-opted in order to thwart the wishes of those same residents?”

Carla Morson the unsuccessful applicant, who is to consider standing in any by-election.

The councillors’ decision to appoint Bill Cole was made at a full council meeting held online because of the Covid 19 emergency and attended by councillors and members of the public. The candidate they rejected was Carla Morson, a Lib Dem who pledged to sit on the council as an independent. Social media sites have been awash with support for Ms Morson.

In a further development, two parish councillors have moved away from Ash Vale to the Marlborough area in Wiltshire, creating speculation that there would be two more vacancies. But Cllr Tony Gorham has said that he and his wife, Cllr Helen Gorham, have no intention of resigning and will have no problem in continuing to represent local people. This too has created a debate among some people: will they really be able to do the job they were elected to do?

The petition to hold an election to fill Cllr Eyre’s shoes will go to Guildford Borough Council for a decision. Under emergency Covid-19 rules, no election can take place until May 2021.

Sue Wyeth-Price said: “Personally, I believe that the current council is unfit to make decisions. They have become so out of touch.” She claimed that there had been numerous instances where councillors had shown little empathy with the people they serve.

Ash Parish Council – as it was before Cllr Eyre’s resignation and Bill Cole’s co-option.

She claimed she had personally been told to “wipe that look off your face” by one councillor at a meeting. Other instances relate to similar offhand comments by councillors to residents, including a threat Cllr Manning made to mute attendees during an online meeting if they made a statement rather than just ask a question.

Two councillors are now the subject of official complaints to Guildford Borough Council, lodged by a resident, James Morgan-Yates. The first complaint alleges that Cllr Ed Schofield made disrespectful comments on social media in a discussion with members of the local community. The second, against newly co-opted Cllr Bill Cole, relates to a comment he made to unsuccessful candidate Carla Morson at the end of the meeting at which he was co-opted.

The departure of Mr and Mrs Gorham, it is believed to the Marlborough area, has now provoked more questioning.

Cllr Nigel Manning – chairman of Ash Parish Council

When the Dragon contacted Cllr Manning by email on Wednesday, September 9, reporting the speculation that the two councillors had moved away from Ash Vale, and asking if this would result in two more vacancies on Ash Parish Council, he replied on Saturday, September 12th: “Contrary to your ‘source’ Tony and Helen Gorham have not moved away.

“It is actually irrelevant, as in any case moving away does not mean that a councillor resigns or ceases to be a councillor. Once a councillor has been elected, they are elected for a four-year term. Their position only becomes available if they resign, if they die or if they breach S85 LGA 1972.”

This was true – they had not moved away at that point. But he did not mention that they were set to move three days later, as we found when we arrived at their house on that day to seek clarification. During an amicable conversation, Cllr Gorham said he felt he and his wife could continue their parish council business remotely and there was no need to resign.

In an email sent on Thursday, September 17, Cllr Gorham said: “We still have the Ash Vale house and we will be frequent visitors too. When we finally get back to actual council meetings, if we ever do, we shall be meeting our obligations of course. Over the past 12 months, the council work has been by far online so distance is no obstacle to meeting the obligations of the role.”

This is just one more chapter in a stormy period for Ash Parish Council. Cllr Spooner, of Rowan Field Ward, admitted his reasons for resigning included a breakdown in his relationship with Cllr Manning.

Cllr Eyre of Ash South and Tongham Ward said: “As for the rift between Paul Spooner and the leadership of Ash Parish Council, I would have to be honest and say that it did have some bearing on my decision [to resign], although that was in no way the major reason.”

Both are now members of the Conservative Independent Group on Guildford Borough Council.

Following the email exchange over Cllrs Tony and Helen Gorham, Cllr Nigel Manning has said he will no longer communicate with The Guildford Dragon.

See also: Ash Residents Angry After Tory Parish Council Co-Opts Political Ally

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Responses to Complaints and Anger Follow Parish Council Co-Option While Another Vacancy Arises

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    September 22, 2020 at 7:29 pm

    History repeating itself. Didn’t Cllr Spooner make the same commitment re not communicating with The Dragon?

    He seems to have changed his tune now.

  2. Chris Spencer Reply

    September 22, 2020 at 8:28 pm

    Sounds like Cllr Manning was as dismissive of The Dragon as he is of the concerns of the residents he is meant to serve.

    Looking forward to the election in May and supporting Ms Morson should she choose to stand. Time for some transparency.

  3. George Potter Reply

    September 22, 2020 at 9:25 pm

    First Paul Spooner [former leader of the Conservative group at GBC before his break with them to form the Conservative ‘independent’ group] says he will no longer communicate with the Guildford Dragon, now Nigel Manning says the same.

    Is it now becoming some sort of tradition for leaders of the official Conservative group on Guildford Borough Council to swear off correspondence with our local newspaper?

    George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham

  4. Peter Corns Reply

    September 23, 2020 at 10:19 am

    Unfortunately, our parish council is so far out of touch with their community that they all might as well be in Wiltshire.

    It’s a shame more heed is not taken of the “Government Handbook for Parish Councillors”. it has some great aspirations such as “Councillors, as democratically-elected leaders representing their communities, have a unique role to play in enabling the local engagement which will drive strong, connected communities – what we sometimes refer to as ‘neighbourhood and community engagement’.”

    And “…they play a vital part in representing the interests of local people and improving the quality of life and the local environment. On top of this, they can influence other decision-makers and can, in many cases, deliver services to meet local needs.”

    Just as importantly, the following extract should be noted “…parish councillors are required to act ethically in carrying out their role. Most local councils have their own code of conduct and require councillors to act openly and honourably in the public interest. They must also do nothing to bring their council into disrepute…”

    This council and its conduct are a disgrace.

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