Apparently Ledbury Town Council's Mayor Bob Barnes couldn't bear that I was going to speak publicly about:
a. A defamatory email he'd circulated designed to discredit me concerning a fictitious incident that had been cooked up by him and a couple of his cronies;
b. Because I'd unearthed the fact that all rules of financial probity had been discarded in the payment of £7 grand to an external consultant;
c. Which led on to misleading information being given to the internal auditor claiming the £7k had been authorised at a committee meeting when in fact it had never been mentioned.
My offence at Ledbury Town Council on Thursday 16 April, in attempting to read out my resignation statement which cited the above as reasons, was not to sit down when the Mayor interrupted me about one minute into my speech. I refused to be silenced, despite the unseemly baying and screeching from various town councillors, including the exceptionally unpleasant Jayne Roberts, and read out my statement. Being a singer, I have a loud voice and was happy to speak effortlessly over them all and carry on until I was finished.
The vote to have me removed for 'disorderly conduct' was carried and the police were called. There followed a lull of 45 minutes in the adjournment during which something of party atmosphere developed. Someone called out for music, 'so we can have a dance'. There was lots of merry networking. So much for procedural outrage.
When it became clear that the cops were never going to arrive, Barnes suspended the meeting until a later date.
The main point to make is that LTC objected to my breaking the rules of conduct in meetings and so wanted me to be arrested. In fact, it was Barnes who first broke its rules by interrupting a member of the public without any grounds to do so. Was it 'offensive or improper' to mention the bald facts of his behaviour (together with a town council clerical officer) in widely circulating a malicious piece of gossip about me? Or the fact that a great wad of money had been waved through for payment without ever having been authorised by fellow councillors? Or that the auditor had been given misleading information?
I applaud the Town Council's high standards in upholding its rules and traditions in the pomp and convention of its meetings. It is just a pity that the Council doesn't apply those same standards to the way it handles large sums of money, consultant contracts, to the way it behaves fairly and honestly in its dealings, and to the manner in which it treats its elected councillors.
Here is a transcript of my statement:
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m speaking to you from the cheap seats tonight – as a member of the public.
As you probably know, I’ve resigned from the Town Council.
There is little point in my remaining part of the Council until 7 May - and so giving my implied approval to this administration which I find in so many ways disturbing and reprehensible.
There are too many instances of arrogant and perverse behaviour by longstanding councillors to list here. All I can say is this stale culture stifles progress and snuffs out precious energy and enthusiasm. A small tragedy perhaps.
However, it is the behaviour in particular of this Mayor, and of a junior clerical officer of Ledbury Town Council, in widely circulating a malicious and defamatory allegation about me, quite without substance, that I have found so contemptible.
That these two people – a salaried officer and an elected member, the town mayor no less - appear to have colluded, in an effort to discredit me, is appalling. To quote Bob Barnes himself: It is a stain on his tenure as Mayor.
Connected with this is the matter of the ‘additional’ payment of £7 thousand to the Foxley Tagg Partnership which has been the subject of so much concern of late. People have shrugged it off as a small matter – it is not.
This was an unauthorised payment, outside of financial regulations, and paid retrospectively. I have asked repeatedly for clarification firstly from the Mayor and chairman of the Neighbourhood Plan, and received none, and then from the Clerk, and received none. In all, this period of stonewalling and prevarication occupied about six weeks, an untold waste of time and energy.
In trying to extricate themselves from blame, it appears that persons involved, have made misleading statements to Council and to the Council’s independent auditor, claiming that authorisation had been granted at a committee meeting – when in fact no such discussion nor authorisation had taken place.
So, what started as a relatively minor, albeit legitimate issue of scrutiny, looks to have developed into a conspiracy, involving concealment of the facts and the propagation of falsehoods in efforts to deflect attention from the difficult situation of those in error. These shortcomings are as serious as it gets for a town council like ours.
I have tried, as you well know, to work through the proper channels to have these and other serious concerns investigated and resolved but I have failed.
In short, I believe that some elected members of Ledbury Town Council have behaved in an irresponsible, incompetent, and dishonourable manner. I do not wish my name to be associated with them.
With the coming election I hope that a strong light might be shone on their antics, so that voters can make a positive choice for the kind of council they wish to see in our town.
This affair is not about me – but about you, about Ledbury Town Council.
If you cherish honesty, fair play and decency you might also wish to register your feelings about this wretched state of affairs, and join me in turning your back on this Council too.