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Town Council meeting branded a 'farce and a circus'
Updated 1:26pm Monday 10th March 2014 in News
FARCICAL, embarrassing and a circus - some of the words used to describe a meeting of the Charter Trustees as they clashed over whether to progress a petition for a town council for High Wycombe.
The Mayor of High Wycombe Cllr Trevor Snaith has been accused of trying to bulldoze through a motion to start a petition which could trigger a Community Governance Review if it gained enough support from residents.
Cllr Tony Green questioned whether Mayor Snaith should remain as the town's 'first citizen', claiming his politically driven behaviour was an ‘abuse of office’.
Currently, Wycombe does not have a town council of its own – merely a town committee within the District Council which has no executive powers.
The Mayor used his casting vote to push through the motion to petition for a town council nine votes to eight – despite furious claims from trustees against the idea that he had not originally voted, meaning the motion would have been lost otherwise.
He claimed his hand was up all along and had taken advice from the district solicitor to check the Mayor had the right to ‘vote twice’ - sparking a huge row in the Council Chamber last Tuesday.
The Town Clerk Bill Reid had to seek advice from the National Secretary of Charter Trustees about the voting process before he was able to verify the result – and is still awaiting this, so the outcome of the vote remains unclear.
The voting fiasco was the icing on top of a rocky meeting which featured clashes over the legitimacy of a document outlining the petition proposal.
The motion was tabled by Cllr Ray Farmer but the paperwork had the Mayor’s Crest on it. The Town Clerk also claimed he had not seen the paper prior to the meeting.
Mayor Snaith called it a simple "administrative error".
Cllrs Tony Green and Lesley Clarke ripped into the paper - which outlined the motion, the positives of a town council and negatives of the High Wycombe Town Committee - calling it "biased" and "full of untruths".
Members questioned whether the Charter Trustees - town councillors who perform ceremonial duties and who should also be apolitical - should even be debating a politically charged issue.
They also rowed about whether a special meeting should have been called for the debate, as the Mayor adjourned to enable the trustees to put their councillor hats on for the town committee meeting before calling the trustees back.
It meant a representative from the Buckinghamshire Association for Local Councils, who arrived for the 6pm start of the trustees’ meeting, was forced to wait until 9.40pm before she was finally called on to speak.
The Mayor cut the debate off at 10pm to hold the vote as members needed to leave the chamber - despite trustees indicating they still wished to speak on the matter.
The voting fiasco was followed by a row in the chamber, with councillors branding the meeting "a farce" and "embarrassing". The Mayor admitted it was "a bit of a circus".
- FOLLOWING the meeting, Cllr Green, pictured above, said: "I’m outraged. The Mayor claimed he voted when it was clear to me and others he didn’t - It was dishonest.
"This meeting, along with things like the Mayoral Arch and talking about ‘leaving a legacy’, has gone in a different direction to all those mayors in the past. I believe he is abusing the office.
"He has two months left in office and he is trying to bulldoze things through to cement his legacy as Mayor. The position is important, not the person who holds its, and I am disgusted by his behaviour."
He added the debate and vote on whether to progress the petition should be held again.
Mayor Snaith reiterated the headed document was an honest mistake and the Charter Trustees was the right place for a town council debate as similar proposals were brought forward by the trustees in 1994 and 2001.
The Mayor was, however, disappointed by the behaviour and "political banter" between trustees in the chambers.
Addressing Cllr Green’s comments about the motion being "bulldozed", Mayor Snaith said: "It was brought forward by the Charter Trustees, following a discussion of a working party, and seconded by the Mayor elect which would suggest it is a theme he wishes to continue with."
- DURING the debate itself, Cllrs Julie Wassell and Matt Knight backed the launch of a petition.
Cllr Wassell said formulating a town council was a prerequisite to a unitary authority, making the vote "one of the most important decision we will ever make" as it was "fundamental to the democracy of Wycombe town".
Cllr Knight said he believed it was important to give residents the chance to decide what they wanted, while Cllr Brian Pearce said a town council would be the "lesser of two evils" as he did not want to see the town potentially fragmented by various parish councils springing up.
But Cllr Lesley Clarke pulled up the claims made in the circulated Mayor's Parlour document that Wycombe ‘lacks a voice, democracy, representation and control’.
She pointed out the same hard working councillors that would sit on a town council already sat on the town committee, which she said worked well.
Cllr Clarke said a town council "would only add another layer of bureaucracy" to local government and increase council tax for residents by up to five times its current level.
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