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Opinion: Council Controversy

Controversial Council Chooses New Leadership

An update to a previous article

by Matt Coot

Regular readers will be aware that I have been leading a campaign against a particular town councillor and his desire to be mayor. I discussed my reasons why I was arguing against him, and I launched a public poll to gauge public opinion. Yesterday, during a very short extraordinary town council meeting, councillors chose to ignore public opinion and instead voted for Cllr John Brady to be the new Mayor of Saltash.

Local businesspeople, former councillors, and general members of the public had all taken part in the poll. The poll had been posted on many different Facebook groups and pages, all to do with Saltash, in an attempt to get as many people to take part as possible. Altogether, two hundred and nineteen people voted on the poll. 86% did not want Cllr Brady to be mayor.

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There were many comments under the poll from both sides of the debate. Some were  offensive, unpleasant, and discriminatory, and attempted to deride the attempt to gain a democratic viewpoint. There were many comments that shared concerns and added to the debate in an intelligent manner.

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In support of Cllr Brady, Alana Breakingbury, critical of the poll, tried to use the stigmatism of mental health against me with the rhetorical: “Is this because of his mental health issues. Who knows?”. Lauren Challen, daughter of town councillor Gloria Challen, resorted to insults with calling the poll “petty playground behaviour”. She also argued against the human right of freedom of expression, as well as a citizen’s democratic right, by telling me to, “Get a grip, does it really matter what you think?”. Also forgetting the fact that I had resigned from the council, a decision made due to my health but also due to the unpleasant culture that a few councillors had created, Lauren Challen also commented that I had “failed to even be” a councillor and called me a “sad man with too much time on his hands”. These unpleasant comments heightened my levels of anxiety and could have led to my spiralling depression to worsen. However, it was the other comments from people – both public and private – that kept me fighting.

On the other side of the debate, the side against Cllr Brady, concerns were raised with examples given to support the concerns. In other words, an intelligent addition to the debate. Local resident, Teresa Lindeyer, commented, “I just wonder why an elected town councillor who is NEVER seen at civic events wants to be Mayor??! Weird”. Another local resident and business owner, Hannah Hepton, said, “He has a history of making the lives of those who have worked tirelessly for Saltash in this role miserable”. Another local resident, Dave Waters, thanked me and had this to say, “Unfortunately you are against the Saltash Trumpalike” comparing Cllr Brady to President Donald Trump. A comparison, I must say, that I have heard many times.

Another comment on the poll is one that confirms and strengthens my concerns that this council is losing the respect of the people it is elected to represent, “Well done for putting your views across in such a clear and precise way. It’s such a shame that some have responded without the same ability and think by throwing in comments on mental health they will discredit you. Sadly i think a lot of people have lost faith in our council”. This comment, from local resident, Dean Blackett, first of all helped to strengthen my resolve in what I had set out to do, but also – with the final line – saddened me. People have lost faith in this current council and the public perception, outside of the circle of people who know councillors and regularly engage with them, is one of derision and distrust.

In fact, on the Saltash News Network page (on Facebook), under their post announcing that Cllr Brady was the new mayor, there were many comments saying the same thing, “never heard of him”. There were also comments such as “They never listen to the people. Why i ask? Do they care?” and “as per normal the councillors did not take any notice of what the voters wanted”.

I will continue to stand up against elected representatives who break the rules. I will continue to argue against our new mayor, who refuses to respect the council’s code of conduct, who refuses to respect the very office that he has been elected to, and who refuses to apologise when he has done wrong. I have been witness to, and victim of, offensive, unpleasant, and disrespectful emails sent by Councillor Brady. I have also seen how he creates a culture of unpleasantness and stress amongst councillors. And I have seen how divisive he has been – not only in he council, but also through the town (as can be evidenced with the social media referenced to within this article).

A little earlier this month, I had submitted a second complaint with the Standards Committee at Cornwall Council regarding Councillor Brady. He had refused to carry out the sanction, as instructed, by the monitoring officer. Therefore, he ignored and disrespected the accountability process; ignored and disrespected the advice/guidance of the monitoring officer; and ignored and disrespected someone he had wronged. This complaint was submitted before I knew he was standing for mayor, and was submitted in response to understanding that he had hypocritically called for the resignation of the mayor after she had been found to have broken the code of conduct. I received a letter yesterday saying that the investigation into the offence will be carried out by the monitoring officer.

Yesterday, I submitted another complaint. This complaint originated as a concern that I had sent to town councillors and the town clerk prior to the meeting. The concern was that Cllr Gloria Challen had made it clear on the online poll that she was supporting Cllr John Brady for mayor. Her family were also rather vocal about their support of Cllr Brady for mayor. This, by itself, could be seen as a breach of the council’s Code of Conduct, specifically Part 5B (non-registerable interests) “ii) the interest is such that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would consider your interest so significant that it is likely to prejudice your judgement of the public interest”. In addition to this, as Cllr Challen was voted in to be the Deputy Mayor, an argument could be made that the public support could have had unfair influence upon Cllr Brady, and other councillors, to vote in favour of her nomination. The complaint is currently awaiting consideration.

Less than 24 hours since the new mayor and deputy mayor have been chosen for Saltash, and already there is controversy being uncovered. There is also an enquiry made to the Electoral Commission with regards to the local elections of 2017 which may, or may not, include details that may, or may not, affect these councillors. More on that might be revealed in a future article.

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