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THE bitter row between Melksham Town Councillors took a bizarre new turn yesterday when a council meeting was cancelled, re-instated and then postponed after just a few minutes.
Former Mayor Jon Hubbard said the meeting was ‘farcical’ and that the town council is in a ‘very very dark place’. He told Melksham News that there was “considerable risk of the the council ending up in the courts with potentially significant financial implications.”
Wednesday evening’s full town council meeting was cancelled during the day by the Mayor, cllr Pat Aves. But following a challenge by cllr Jon Hubbard, who questioned the legality of the cancellation at such short notice, the meeting went ahead.
Melksham News was told by the Leader of the Council, cllr Vanessa Fiorelli, that the meeting had been cancelled – only to be tipped off by a member of the public that the meeting was still going ahead.
The meeting lasted just minutes and was postponed amidst more confusion.
No reason was given at the meeting for the postponement and there were differing explanations.
Cllr Fiorelli told us today (Thursday) that the meeting had been postposed because the Town Clerk was unable to attend. Cllr Fiorelli missed the meeting herself saying she was unable to log onto the online meeting. But other councillors say the meeting was cancelled because not enough councillors were present.
Only six councillors attended – Jon Hubbard, Martin Pain, Sue Brown, Kathy Iles, Geoff Mitcham (Chair) and Clive Jeffries who was on-line but had microphone issues. The other nine councillors didn’t attend. Councillor Adrienne Westbrook who was logged into the meeting said she was attending as an observer but not as a councillor.
On the agenda was a Notice of No Confidence in Councillor Adrienne Westbrook’s ability to perform the role of Deputy Leader with a recommendation that she vacates the post.
The motion followed a row at a previous council meeting in July which was covered by Melksham News and which resulted in heavy criticism on our letters page and on social media.
There was also a motion reminding councillors of the council’s Code of Conduct in reference to some councillors’ behaviour at the last meeting.
Speaking to Melksham News today, Cllr Fiorelli denied the meeting had originally been cancelled because of the controversial agenda items, saying it was because important financial matters were to be discussed which required the expert knowledge of the Town Clerk who couldn’t attend.
Jon Hubbard told Melksham News, the meeting was ‘farcical’. “The town council is in a very very very dark place,” he said. “I think that we have councillors who are ignoring the rule of law – not only the council’s own policies – but also Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972.
“They are making decisions and taking actions off their own bat and without reference to council. And their actions I believe constitute misconduct in public office.
“I contacted WALC – the Wiltshire Association of Local Councils – who advised me in writing that the mayor is not empowered to cancel a full council meeting, especially if that full council meeting is still advertised as taking place on the council’s website.
“I believe councillors acted outside of their authority, they acted independently as councillors and they acted outside of regulations. There is nothing outlined in law to allow an individual councillor or group of individual councillors to make decisions on behalf of a council.
“What happened yesterday (with the original cancellation of the meeting), whatever the rights or wrongs, or the reasons for it happening, that decision was not a decision of council, it did not go through the correct policies of council -for the decision to be made there is a very specific route it has to go through – that did not happen.
“And it has exposed the council to considerable risk of ending up in the courts with potentially significant financial implications.”
The developments follow a simmering row on the council which was revealed in a Melksham News story in early July.
Tensions flared at a full council meeting on 6th July with one councillor describing others as ‘not particularly pleasant’, whilst another labelled remarks made as ‘vitriolic’.
The arguments followed news that seven Liberal Democrat councillors switched to become independent with other councillors claiming they wanted to ‘hold on to the power structure that they’ve been holding on to for too long.’
In response, mayor cllr Pat Aves told Melksham News, “There was every intention of conducting the meeting on Wednesday evening. However, due to unforeseen events, our clerk was unavailable and therefore we could not go ahead with the meeting on that date.
“I notified all the councillors of the the situation and another meeting will go ahead at the earliest opportunity, when we have a clerk.