Wednesday, 23 May 2012

And now this.....

So what do you do as a Councillor when you've lost a democratically taken vote?  It is a fact of everyday life in any form of democracy that decisions are taken by votes.  The majority view prevails.  Some you win, some you lose - but at the end of the day you accept the decision of the majority and move on.

We had a little bit of drama at FTC last night and it all centred on who should be the next Mayor and the ability to move on when you lose a vote.

When I became Mayor a year ago it was immediately following the May 2011 elections when those campaigning on the Frodsham First manifesto swept the board.  Given that we were elected on the basis of radically changing the council it made sense that one of us became Mayor - as being Mayor brought with it the Chairmanship of the council.  I was duly elected by an overwhelming majority.

I have some regret that, that meeting wasn't as dignified as I would have liked.  Two councillors in particular who would have considered themselves to have been on the loosing side of the May 2011 election made the transition difficult - but that was their democratic right.  One suggested that as I was so busy perhaps I should only take the role of Chairman and let someone else be Mayor.

FTC's then arrangements didn't provide for that split.  I took on both roles - and did my best.

This issue of splitting the Mayorship from the Chairmanship came back to the council in the autumn of 2011 when we had a general discussion considering whether we would like to continue to look into it.  The decision was that we should and thus three reports came before the council before the March meeting where they were outlined, and then discussed and voted on in April.

The first report - which was accepted unanimously in April - made the case for making more of our civic representation for Frodsham.  This isn't all about Councillor's going on junkets - this is about promotion of Frodsham outside our town and promoting civic society and democracy within.  We all agreed we should do more - and bring in our schools and invite them to have junior Mayor's of Frodsham who can join in the ceremonial.

The second report - also passed unanimously in April - was to select our Mayor's on the basis of a convention.  This happens elsewhere.  Effectively the councillor with the longest service since they were elected or were last Mayor is offered the opportunity to become Mayor.  They don't have to accept the honour - and if they don't then the Mayorship would be offered to the next longest serving member and so on.

The third report passed by a majority in April which was for the Mayorship and Chairmanship of the Council to be separated.  I won't bore you with the details - but effectively through a creative combination of the council's powers to promote Frodsham, its business and culture, and using the fact that the Local Government Act 1972 allows the council to have a vice-chairman who can fulfill any and all of the roles of the Chairman - we have been able to split the roles.  This also allows our Mayor to concentrate solely on promoting Frodsham - and leaves the Chairman to manage and lead council business.  Not everyone is comfortable performing a civic role, not everyone has the skill to be a Chairman.

The members who lost the vote in April asked for this decision to be reviewed.  This was debated last night, the council rejected the motion to overturn the decision - this time by a larger majority than had been achieved for the original decision in April.  In April the decision was 7-5 to make the change.  Yesterday those seeking to overturn the decision lost 6-10.

Given the timing of the meeting we then, after this vote had to proceed to elect our new Mayor.

Under the convention the Mayorship was offered to Cllr Shearn - she was Deputy Mayor last year.  Even though she would have been elected to the post unanimously she declined to accept the Mayorship.  She was one of the councillors who had been opposed to the split.  Following the convention the next councillor to be offered the role was Cllr Frank Pennington - he was last Mayor in 1992.  He declined the offer.   This gave us a little bit of interesting, but thoroughly unnecessary theatre.

The next Councillors in line for the role were Councillors Lynn Riley (who has never been Mayor) and Councillor Graham Bondi who has been Mayor twice before.  Both accepted the offer and were duly elected Mayor and Deputy Mayor respectively.

We then moved into our Annual General Meeting where the first item of business was, as it must be, the election of our Chairman.  Cllr Mark Warren was elected unanimously to that role.  Cllr Lynn Riley is Vice-Chairman.

Once the AGM was finished we then duly invested our new Mayor with her Chain.  It gave me great pleasure to enchain my good friend and colleague Cllr Lynn Riley into the role.  I'm sure she will carry it off absolutely magnificently!   Both Cllrs Lynn Riley and Graham Bondi made short speeches - both touching on the fact that they hadn't expected the honour, that they would have gladly seen Cllr Shearn in the role, and making the point that the majority view should be respected.  Cllr Bondi made the telling point that it was, as he saw it, his civic duty to accept the decision and perform the role.

A vote of thanks for my work was passed and I made a short speech emphasising just how much work had been done in the year, and the tremendous changes we had made.  I also pointed out that much of the pace and pressure we've felt since January came about through others' decisions.

We were the only parish council out of 97 to take advantage of CWaC reducing our local council tax, we had to recruit  a new town clerk, then we had the Mary Portas bid process, its submission and the recruitment process for our Town Champion - all since January 2012 - and all achieved by April 2012!  This is remarkable, almost unheard of speed in Local Government.  Oh, and by the way this co-incided with our financial year end as well.

It is no wonder that Frodsham Town Council is now seen as a well respected local council and that we are attracting the attention of others for what we have been doing. The recent awards for our innovation with the Action for Market Towns being a case in point.

Only yesterday I was contacted by a CWaC Cllr suggesting that Frodsham take part in the September heritage days when people can visit unusual buildings in the locale and get to see inside.  We've been offered the help of Chester's Civic Trust.  This is exactly what promoting Frodsham is all about - and putting us on the map.

Ah well - it is the end of my one year stint at the helm.  It has been an immense honour and privilege.  I will rightly now take a back seat - the new team need to take us on in their way.  I will always be there to help - but with Mark at the helm and Lynn promoting Frodsham we couldn't be in safer hands.