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Making sense of Handforth

Advising on this sort of thing used to be part of my job and having seen a few snippets of THAT Zoom meeting, I’ve had a little delve and tried to piece some of together, 

What seems to have happened is that last year the Clerk to the parish council notified the Returning Officer at the principal authority (Cheshire East Unitary Council) that the Parish Council has a vacancy.  

This has happened because one councillor had failed to attend any meetings of the Parish Council for a period of six months.  (Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972.) 

The Act is clear, the absence “clock” starts from the date of the councillor’s last appearance at any meeting they were an appointed member of, including, I would argue, any that they could attend as such - you tend to interpret these things generously if you are intending to act on them, so there can’t be doubts raised. 

There seems to be a dispute among the other councillors about this and some odd sounding legal advice given.  Anything about virtual meetings is a red herring because back in spring 2020, these were legalised for councils. Oddly, the parish council went without any meetings at all, starting in April and ending in August 2020, presumably because of COVID. 

During this period, the missing councillor, having already clocked-up a period of not attending meetings, was disqualified by the Clerk. The 1972 Act includes provision for the Council to authorise a longer absence. It appears that the Clerk didn’t pick from what seem to me to be several sensible options, e.g. recognise that was was an exceptional situation, or consult with the Chairman (who is also Mayor of Cheshire East, so one would have expected better from him) or get advice from Cheshire East officers or from the National Association of Local Councils. 

Some Councillors were (and still are, clearly ) upset by this action, and resuming meetings once more, in August they issued the Clerk formal instructions to undo the earlier actions, which appear not to have been complied with.

Cheshire East stated in an email read out at a HPC planning Committee (of all places)  that once an election had been triggered, the Parish Council could not request it it be stopped.  Normally, that election wouldn’t be until May 2021. The Clerk didn’t send the planning committee agenda for the meeting to the disqualified councillor. 

The Council delegated the issues around the Clerk to an Employment Committee, which in November commissioned an investigation into the Clerk’s actions.  I haven’t seen that report surface anywhere.  I don't know how Jackie Weaver got appointed.

Standing orders (and common law) would normally have it that the vice Chairman  chairs if the Chairman is unable to act.  The Chairman MUST preside if he is present. 

The “Jackie Weaver” meeting that went viral appears to be the Council meeting of 10 December.  The Council has met three times in January; the most recent, and the only one with minutes published sound like the Clerk is well on their way to being reinstated.

The last thing I saw was news that there was to be a motion of no confidence in the Chairman to be debated on 17 February.  Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water...

Jackie Weaver doesn't seem to be shy of publicity and has popped-up promoting something for New Forest district council with the "I have the authority" strap line. 

If you're new please join in and if you have questions pop them below and the forum regulars will answer as best we can.

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