Another stormy night in Chard
Yesterday (13 June) Chard Town Council held a town council meeting at the Guildhall. There was a great sense of anticipation and quite a buzz among the public gallery which was once again nearly full. The sense of expectation was around a promised statement from the Mayor of Chard, Gary Shortland. Cllr Shortland had promised an update on the bullying in the town council. Added to which residents and councillors had been led to believe that statements would be made by three councillors. Whilst they have not been named, it has been known for some time that the Rolley report identified 3 councillors as prime movers in the bullying culture. However none of the three have been named.
Cllr Shortland had undertaken to contact Chris Rolley and request the names of the three councillors responsible. He reported back to the council that he had done so, but Mr Rolley had only given him the names in confidence. Further Cllr Shortland had contacted the three councillors and told them that they had been named in the report.
However he had also sought advice about publicising the names. Here things got sticky. The advice had clearly been that the town council could not do this. The new Town Clerk, Gareth Hughes reiterated that this was indeed the advice the council had received.
Armed with that advice, the Mayor said he felt his hands were tied. He had done everything he said he would do, but could not reveal the three names. He added that the town had no legal powers to sanction the three councillors.
At which point the public gallery groaned, almost as one. As Cllr Hawkes pointed out, this is no angry mob. He went on “Take a look at them. These are community leaders, former councillors. To be dismissed as an angry mob is tacky and demeaning.”
Cllr Dave Bulmer expressed his disgust: “It is simply not good enough. How can we move on if we do nothing.” He then refused to take any further part in proceedings and stormed out of the meeting.
Cllr Eggins expressed the frustration many in the Guildhall felt adding: “They have not changed their behaviour, they are not willing to change their behaviour.”
It was hard not to feel some sympathy for the Mayor. Once you have sought advice (and surely he was right to) you cannot ignore it. To do so would put the council in a position where it would be open to legal action. It may have been an unpopular decision, but Cllr Shortland had played it by the book.
But as a member of the public said as they left the Guildhall: “The LibDem leadership tell us we should take it out on the culprits at the ballot box. How can we do so when the names are being covered up. And we paid for this report, it was public money.” In fairness it was a report instigated by a LibDem councillor and former Mayor of Chard, Martin Carnell.
Whilst we are not yet in a position to publish the names of the three councillors responsible for the bullying, we have been able to ascertain the names of a number of councillors who are not responsible, either because of their public pronouncements or via other evidence.
We’ll be publishing that list in due course.