Welcome to new Swanage Town Councillor, Angelo Wiggins, co-opted by the Swanage Town Council yesterday to replace Constance Gainsborough who recently passed away.
While it's good to have a young person on the Council, I think it is appropriate to say a few words, as others may be interested in the 'democratic' process of selection.
When a vacancy like this occurs, unless ten or more electors call for an election, the elected Council members can co-opt a member of the community without election. The Lib Dems volunteered NOT to call an election (and so save the town the cost of more than £5000) on the understanding that the majority Conservative councillors (nine or perhaps ten out of eleven) would select someone who had previously either stood for election or had actually previously served on the Council.
The issue of co-option was tabled for a Policy and Planning meeting yesterday morning (Monday 21st).There were three candidates: Angelo Wiggins (Conservative), Philippa Keeling (Lib Dem) and Cherry Bartlett (Labour).
I initially called for this item to be postponed for the next full, evening, meeting of the Council, on the grounds that it would be more democratic for the debate to held at a forum that would have more of the public present (as well as perhaps all the other councillors). This was over-ruled. I then noted that the papers relating to the candidates had only been circulated at the beginning of the meeting. I observed my understanding that procedure required that briefing papers should be provided three working days before a meeting. This was also over-ruled.
I then proposed that it would be democratically proper for the Council to elect someone who had stood before the electorate previously and/or who had served the community. I initially proposed Philippa Keeling, who had gained around 500 votes at a previous election. I went on to propose that, if she were not elected, then Cherry Bartlett should be elected, as someone who has previously served with credit on the town council. Voting was held, and I voted for Philippa Keeling while all seven others there (Mike Pratt, Bill Trite, Lawrence Gloyn Cox, Mike Whitwam, Alison Patrick, Steve Poultney and Colin Bright) voted for Angelo Wiggins, who was duly selected. (Councillors absent were Gloria Marsh, Barry Audley and Gary Suttle)
While I wish Angelo well, I feel it is worth letting people know that this is how democracy works in Swanage. It may be legally acceptable but I personally think it is morally disgraceful and is another example of why and how the Council as a whole gets its reputation for doing as it wishes behind closed doors, exploiting its majority to its own ends.
Of course, the response I usually receive when I make such observations is that the councillors have been elected by the community to act on their behalf. Which, of course, is entirely true. So perhaps all of you out there who vote Conservative are perfectly happy. And yes, the town has after all voted for the council representatives it wants. Next town elections in 2011.