Tempers flare in council debate on “illegal” meeting

TEMPERS flared at a meeting of Frodsham Town Council when claims were made that this year’s Annual Town Meeting had been “illegal.”
Outspoken Cllr Tom Reynolds claimed the meeting had been “utterly disgraceful” and that councillors had been misled because it had been known since March that the meeting would not be in compliance with the Local Government Act (LGA).
But father of the council Cllr Frank Pennington launched a verbal attack on Cllr Reynolds.
He told him: “Ever since you were elected to this council, you have done nothing for Frodsham.
“You have done nothing but cause trouble and I am fed up of it. You have not done one thing for the people of Frodsham.”
Cllr Reynolds protested: “When I have tried to do something you have not let me. You have ganged up on me.”
The row flared when the council was discussing a report on the Annual Town Meeting (ATM), held on July 1. The document conceded that for a number of years, the ATM had not been in compliance with the LGA, which stipulated that it should be held annually between March 1 and June 1 and should not start earlier than 6pm.
In Frodsham, it had usually been held on a Saturday afternoon, to improve attendance and encourage community participation.
After last year’s ATM it was decided to make changes this year – continuing with a Saturday afternoon but selecting a date likely to improve attendance and moving the meeting to a more central location – the Parish Hall.
Setting the date proved difficult because of the availability of the end-of-year accounts and annual report, two bank holidays in May and availability of the Parish Hall. The General Election called on June 8 further complicated matters.
Mindful of the dates set in the LGA, the chairman, Cllr Judith Critchley and Town Clerk, Mrs Hazel Catt, sought the advice of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils (CHALC) and were told there were no sanctions for missing the dates and that other councils held their ATMs to meet local needs.
As Frodsham had no complied with the LGA for a number of years, it was not considered an issue to call the meeting on July 1 – the first available date for the Parish Hall.
The date and time of the ATM had been endorsed by the full council.
A House of Commons Briefing Paper dated in 2015 stated that the obligation to hold the meeting between March 1 and June 1 could, in practice, be disregarded and there were few sanctions available if the meeting was not held.
The report added that all councillors had an opportunity to object to the proposed arrangements and that, at the ATM itself, residents voted overwhelmingly to continue with the meeting.
But one resident, Mrs Pauline Scott, told the council she had been “outraged” by what had happened and thought the review that had been carried out was “nothing short of buck-passing”.
The Town Clerk and the chairman had known for more than three months that the meeting did not comply with the regulations and the fact that it had not complied in previous years was irrelevant.
People had been kept in the dark and it made her wonder what other matters were decided behind closed doors.
“This is not what I expect from my council,” she added.
Several councillors denied being misled over the issue and indicated they had full confidence in the Town Clerk and chairman. The council’s aim had been to encourage greater attendance and participation by the public.
Mayor Cllr Alan Oulton, said: “We took the advice of CHALC – who else could we go to?”
The matter was referred to the council’s new Events Committee with recommendations that, in the circumstances, the council had acted in the best interests of residents and that all future ATMs be held after 6pm on a day in the first week of March.

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