Ridiculous council meeting leaves clerk visibly distressed
A chaotic and ridiculous Torbay council meeting left a council clerk visibly distressed and saw an hour-long debate end with a vote.
A meeting of Torbay’s Housing Crisis Review, Overview and Scrutiny Task-and-Finish group on Monday created a procedural row that left a clerk too upset to continue in office due to a disagreement over the political balance of the committee to review the council’s efforts to deal with its housing crisis.
Councilors had received an email inviting them to join the committee, but the problems started when the response turned out to be better than expected, with housing being such a big issue in the bay, many councilors were eager to participate.
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Three Liberal Democrats, two independents and seven Tory advisers were nominated for membership, but fearing the panel was politically unbalanced, group leaders were asked to nominate a limited number of candidates of their choice.
While the Tories are the largest group in Torbay Council, the council is led by a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Independents,
But in a meeting that echoed the notorious “Jackie Weaver” incident at Handforth Parish Council that went viral earlier this year, Torbay members engaged in a heated hour-long debate over who could or could not be a member of a new group. until examining the council’s efforts to deal with its housing crisis.
The measure aimed to create a political balance reflecting the composition of the council with three Liberal Democrat candidates, three Conservative candidates and two independents.
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But the move was rejected by the Tories, who felt it was an unfair attempt to move the goalposts and would give their members too little influence over the review process.
Conservative group leader Cllr David Thomas said the request was sent too late and proposed no candidates, while panel chair Cllr Hazel Foster tried to start the meeting with a vote to ratify membership as indicated on the agenda.
The Liberal Democrats rose in rebellion, arguing that such a move should not take place, given the demand for a politically balanced council to be formed, and when a vote was cast by Cllr Foster it was swiftly interrupted when Cllr Mandy Darling questioned the democratic process by saying, “I don’t recognize this and I won’t be a part of it.”
He would set the tone for a relentless back and forth between advisers which quickly degenerated.
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Cllr Chris Lewis said: “If this were to become public, people would be amazed if we were arguing about it. All members want to do their best for our community in Torbay.
At one point, a council clerk, who is not allowed to participate in political debates, was put in the crossfire when asked to weigh in. After being placed in an impossible position, the clerk became visibly upset and was granted permission to leave the meeting.
When Cllr Foster attempted to take the vote again, Cllr Karen Kennedy, who wanted the meeting to be reconvened, was furious. She said: “I think it is totally and totally unacceptable to put a council staff member in a situation like this where he is clearly very, very upset.
“It’s out of order and it’s close to intimidation and harassment. I do not agree at all with what is going on. It’s unfair, it’s mean.
Council CEO Anne-Marie Bond was finally invited to participate in the meeting, held on Zoom, to help councilors reach consensus.
As the time approached, it was decided that the meeting could proceed without a panel and that the group leaders would agree on the composition of the review panel before the next meeting.
It was only then that the guests were finally able to discuss the housing crisis, but by then the topic had been largely eclipsed.
More than 1,400 households are believed to be waiting for affordable housing in the bay, as demand quickly outstrips any new supply
Earlier this month, the council rented the 47 rooms at the Richmond Hotel in Torquay to provide a “breaker” for some of its housing pressures.