Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A sad embarrassment for the council

MY first reaction to reading the weighty document which made up the adjudication by West Dorset’s monitoring officer after complaints about the behaviour of Lyme councillors was not one of shock or incredulity. I knew most of the gory details.

It was one of great sadness - sad that the situation had been allowed to go so far that a letter calling for police action actually ended up on the deputy chief constable’s desk. And a certain amount of embarrassment - embarrased that the council of which I was once mayor had to sink to this level. 

There is nothing that the current crop of councillors dislike more than 'yesterday’s men' like myself  saying: “It would never have happened in my day”. The fact is, however, that it would not have been allowed to get that far. Disputes between councillors and staff members are nothing new. Most mayors have had to deal with a few disputes during their term of office. 

I had one particularly difficult situation to deal with shortly after becoming mayor and the then town clerk, Philip Latham, insisted that I reprimanded the councillor concerned. I was just 34 at the time and I did not relish the situation. But we sorted the situation, the two indivuals shook hands and agreed to get on with the business in hand - running the town - without washing our dirty linen in public. But that was 30 years ago and these are very different days. Employees had very few rights at that time and never really wanted to rock the boat when it came to upsetting their boss. 

Since my days as mayor I have employed hundreds of people and that experience has taught me that you have to do it by the book. Seeking a solution behind closed doors is always the best way forward.

I have spoken to a number of former mayors and asked how they would have handled the current situation. They all say they would have attempted to solve the disputes in an adult fashion by getting the parties together behind closed doors rather than flinging claims and counter claims at each other.

The monitoring officer’s report makes disturbing reading whichever way you look at it, and it rather blows a hole in the rather smug view expressed by senior councillors at the annual town meeting when they pretended that everything was rosy in the town council camp and what a good job they were all doing. No wonder they had problems with their delivery.

The most distressing part of the whole debacle is that council staff have got embroiled in a public spat with their employers, leading to them calling for the resignation of councillors who have been voted in by the people. That has never happened in Lyme before.

One question many are asking is how much has all this cost? How much officer time has been spent on these silly disputes? How much has been spent on seeking legal advice?

At least the monitoring officer’s report has got the whole sorry saga out in the open. 

It’s time to draw a line and move on.

Stomper’s last walk through those red doors 

I’M a big admirer of the fire brigade. My father was a retained fireman in Lyme for 25 years and was devastated when he was forced to leave due to ill health at the age of 55. So much so, in fact, that he still went up to the Monday practice nights just to be around firemen and help sweep up.

His younger brother Reg, born in Lyme, was a full-time London firemen and I spent many summer holidays enjoying the excitement at Wimbledon fire station.

And my best mate for more years than I care to remember has been the incomparable John Stamp, who on Monday of this week bid an emotional farewell to the fire station in Charmouth where he has been station officer (watch commander in today’s parlance) for 30 years, having been a fireman for 38 years.
They gave him a touching farewell complete with Scottish piper as he walked out through those big red doors for the last time.

John, “Stomper” to all and sundry, a proud old-school firefighter, is not a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, but he was visibly touched by the send-off, attended by Dorset Fire and Rescue Service’s top brass, including the chief, Darran Gunter, and Fire Authority chairman Rebecca Knox. 

Knowing John, he will find something else to do on a Monday night but he is sure to miss the firemen’s life. Charmouth and the Fire Brigade owe him a great deal. The Chief Officer told me that  his 30 years in charge of a station is unique and unlikely to be beaten.

Mum Sheila and wife Pat were present to see that final walk into civvy street, dead proud of him, as am I.  

As would have been his dad, Tom, one of Charmouth’s great characters.

MANY thanks to Mayor Sally Holman for staging a civic reception for Lyme Regis Football Club to mark our best season ever. As club president I was proud to see players representing all our teams process into the Guildhall - a first for many of them - smartly dressed in club ties and white shirts. I think Sally is at her best when surrounded by young people and they certainly respond to her enthusiasm for all things of a sporting nature. The players (on their very best behaviour) lined up on the Guildhall steps for a photo with the civic party and regaled the Mayor with a chorus of 'Sea, Sea, Seasiders!'

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