Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Anita succeeds in keeping her Dad in check

THE job the Mayor - any mayor - dreads most is chairing the annual town meeting, now referred to as the annual meeting of electors.

It’s the one opportunity that residents have  to make life awkward for councillors by asking a few difficult questions. 

Last week’s meeting was no exception, although the attendance - around 20 - was disappointing. In fact, if you took out councillors’ partners and Woodmead Halls staff, probably only half a dozen or so were there out of genuine interest. 

You can draw one of two conclusions from the small numbers: either the electorate of Lyme are happy with the way the town is being run - or they couldn’t care less. I will leave you to make up your own mind.

I well remember the annual town meetings I chaired when I occupied the mayoral chair back in 1984.  In fact, I had to officiate at two such meetings as my predecessor John Broderick escaped chairing his own meeting (can’t remember the reason why) when I was his deputy, and, of course, I had my own meeting during my term of office. Both of them were difficult experiences, especially for one so young(!), with a number of contentious issues, the main one being the signing over of land at Monmouth Beach to West Dorset District Council, a subject that will soon be raising its head again with the expiry of the lease. 

Firebrand councillor Stan Williams was at his most belligerent and gave me a particular hard time. (Note to Mark Gage: I know what you’re going through!).

Stan is very much still in the news as far as council matters are concerned, although no longer a member, fighting his corner for the Woodmead Halls, where he is the chairman.

The current mayor, Sally Holman, managed to legitimately escape this year’s meeting because she was representing the town in Bermuda, so the chair was taken by her deputy, Anita Williams, coincidentally Stan Williams’ daughter.

I thought Anita did a really good job chairing the meeting, answering the various questions with candour and batting away a couple of  googlies that could have caused a few upsets.

With her father having served Lyme as a councillor for more than 40 years and her uncle, Pete Williams, having also done his bit, public service is very much a way of life for the Williams family. I thought Anita demonstrated that she would make an excellent First Citizen when her career allows her to take on the role. Her time will come. She even managed to keep her dad in check - which is more than I did!

The annual meeting of electors allows those who follow the affairs of the council closely (a declining number I’m afraid) to really  get to grips with council issues which never really seem to go away.

Ken Gollop, Nigel Ball and Derek Hallett did their best to install a bit of vim and vigour into the proceedings and among the old chestnuts aired were the church railings, heavy lorries, street cleaning and affordable homes. 

Ken livened things up a bit when he asked whether councillors supported the heritage and traditions of the town and Derek generated a bit of throat clearing from the top table when he posed the question: “Is there a morale problem among council staff?” following the recent departure of long-serving town clerk Mike Lewis, shortly to be followed by much respected administrative officer Vickie Stickler.

Ken also managed to get Mark Gage to confirm his view that he was in favour of separating the roles of mayor and council chairman, a subject that is likely to become a real hot potato in the coming months.

Mark made it clear he did not want to abolish the role of mayor but to allow the First Citizen to concentrate on the town’s ceremonial matters whilst a separate chairman was elected to oversee the smooth running of the administration.

Anita Williams made her views clear when she said she would have to be “dragged screaming” out the Guildhall if anyone tried to abolish the position of mayor.

All good stuff!

Don’t paint out the clock names

WHEN Mike Lewis made a very funny but emotional speech at the recent Civic Night, bidding farewell to Lyme Regis Town Council after more than 20 years service (13 of them as town clerk) he joked that it wouldn’t be long before the councillors removed his name from the Millennium Clock.

We all chuckled but inwardly thought: “They would never do that!”

Last week, at a meeting of the Town Management Committee, that’s exactly what our councillors considered doing. They did not actually go as far to agree to paint out the names of Mike Lewis and the mayor at the time, Owen Lovell, who has given 35 years service as a town and district councillor, including two terms as mayor, but they are thinking about it. The reason? Because, they say, spending what would be a relatively small amount of money on a pot of gold leaf paint, was a waste of money. 

The Millennium Clock was surrounded in controversy when the council decided to mark the millennium by its erection in the Cobb Gate car park. But whether they like it or not, the clock is now part of the town’s heritage. Recording the names of the council’s senior officer and mayor at important times in our history is an accepted part of local government.

Mike Lewis will see the funny side of this but I hope the council steps back from painting out his name and that of Owen Lovell.  

In my view it would be an unnecessary and disrespectful act and if the council really can’t afford it, I’m sure someone will come up with the cash.

It’s official! Spring is on the way ...

AFTER such a depressing and awful winter, I can assure you that spring is definitely on the way.

How? Because the first cuckoo was heard by horticuturalist Nigel Ball last week, a day earlier than last year.  And he’s an expert.

We will soon be reporting the first mackerel of the season.

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