Friday, 20 May 2011

A few surprises at first meeting

ALTHOUGH the election of Sally Holman as mayor and Mark Gage as chairman of the top committee was the worst kept secret in Lyme Regis last week, the first meeting of the new-look town council in Lyme Regis was not quite the complete stitch-up everyone expected and there were a couple of surprises.

The first was the elevation of Daryl Turner to deputy mayor, an interesting choice as Daryl has gone on record as saying that he believes the role of mayor should be downgraded to a ceremonial one only and that a leader should be appointed to chair the council.

I had to change my column at the eleventh hour last week as I quite expected Lucy Campbell, who topped the town council poll, to be elected deputy mayor. But she declined the invitation, as did two other candidates, before Daryl took his place alongside the mayor.

They looked an incongruous couple – burly Daryl and diminutive Sal. But they could prove to be a formidable team. What is it they say about opposites? I doubt whether Daryl expected to get (or even wanted) the number two position on the council with his duties as a district councillor and the expectation that he will be rewarded with a post (perhaps a chairmanship or vice-chairmanship) at High West Street in Dorchester for topping the poll for the Tories in the Lyme district council election.

With Sally in the chair for two years, it is unlikely that the status of the mayoralty will come up during her term but I am sure it will become an issue during the tenure of the new council.

The other surprise was the appointment of Lorna Jenkin as chairman of two committees – tourism and advertising and community plan implementation. Whilst Lorna is an experienced and hard-working councillor, especially behind the scenes on unglamorous subjects like bus shelters and public footpaths, she has never been one to hog the limelight but created a little bit of history by taking the two roles, the first councillor ever to do so.

Rikey Austin was proposed for the tourism chairmanship but declined the offer, so Lorna remained the only nomination having already accepted the chairmanship of the community plan implementation committee. She’s going to be a very busy lady.

Mark Gage, one of Lyme’s newly-elected representatives, and a member of the so-called “Gang of Five”, four of whom were elected, also wrote himself into the record books by becoming the first new member to be given the chairmanship of the the council’s most influential committee – strategy and policy, formerly held by Owen Lovell.

It was common knowledge in the town that the role would go to Mark and that Owen would not get any of the top jobs as part of the agenda for change which the newcomers promised.

Mark demonstrated his chairmanship skills when he led a public meeting last year on the row over the sale of the former club for young people in Church Street, now renamed The Hub.

According to the election address he shared with four other candidates, he’s had previous local government experience before moving to Lyme so will not be fazed by the job.
Another newcomer, Anita Williams, not a “Five” member, was elected chairman of the planning committee.

So no top jobs for last year’s mayor, Michaela Ellis, or Owen Lovell, now the council’s most experienced member but clearly not the most popular among the new councillors. It was no less than Owen expected, especially after his pre-election comments about Lyme Regis Development Trust, possibly why he chose to go on holiday before the council’s annual meeting.

But I am sure he will return with fire in his belly to keep the new members on their toes.
With the election of mayor and the various committee chairman done with, the rest of the inaugural meeting of the new council was conducted in a friendly and respectful manner, although there was a slight kerfuffle in the public gallery when some of those present declined to stand, as is customary, when the pre-meeting prayer was delivered.

Whilst on the election, a few voters have expressed concerns to me about the influence the now “Gang of Four” will have on future council matters associated with the running of The Hub as all are closely connected with the new youth club.

As they clearly have the majority, concerns have been expressed that they will have too much influence especially with regard to future funding of the facility.

Such fears, I believe, are unfounded because the four will have to declare an interest when such matters are discussed and are unlikely to be able to vote.


I HAVE written many times in this column about how lucky we are to have so much stage talent in Lyme Regis with our three main theatre groups - the operatic, dramatic and pantomime societies - producing shows of a consistently high standard.

But last week’s production of 'Me And My Girl' by Lyme Regis Operatic Society raised the bar to even gidier heights; it was simply the best amateur show I have ever seen.

Not all reporters enjoy covering local shows, but I have written critiques on amateur productions throughout my 45 years in journalism, in Lyme, across the border in Devon and also in London.

On this occasion, I left the review to our regular theatre critic Keith Jenkin (see pages 6 and 7) and Jackie and I went along to the Marine Theatre as paying members of the audience. I’m glad he took on the task because I am not sure I could have found the words to have done the show justice.

I’ve always been a big fan of Lyme Operatic Society but 'Me And My Girl' rose well above the level expected of amateur performers. One of our readers, Helen Case wrote to us this week saying it was as good as any West End production. That was no exaggeration.

The ten leading players were all fantastic, with some memorable portrayals that had the audience calling for more.

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