Sleaford Town Council scraps leader’s role - proposal for secret ballots for key positions rejected amid allegations of ‘pressure and intimidation’

Coun Grenville Jackson. EMN-170905-124414001
Coun Grenville Jackson. EMN-170905-124414001

The position of leader of Sleaford Town Council is to be scrapped but a proposal to elect the roles of Mayor and Deputy Mayor by secret ballot has been rejected, amid allegations of ‘intimidation’ of members.

The decision was taken at an extra ordinary Town Council meeting on Monday night to thrash out issues with the current system.

Adrian Snookes. EMN-170905-124352001

Adrian Snookes. EMN-170905-124352001

The system of having working groups and panels all reporting to regular full council meetings, set up just a year ago, was revised in a move proposed by Couns Anthony Brand and Jan Brealey-Cook.

Members were controversially asked to agree to change voting procedures for selection of the mayor, deputy and panels to a secret ballot but this idea was narrowly rejected by 8 votes to 6 with two abstentions.

Some members were not in favour of the secret ballot, urging for greater openness, but Coun Paul Coyne explained: “When it comes to voting the question of openness and transparency has to be over-ridden by eliminating any element of pressure or intimidation towards our less confident or forceful members. It is fair and less open to any manipulation.”

Coun Jan Brealey-Cook agreed saying: “There have been people who have been feeling pressured or didn’t want to hurt or upset someone.”

Coun Adrian Snookes added: “I was subject to that abuse - Lincolnshire Independent abuse.”

Coun Snookes has been a Lincolnshire Independent but now sits as an Independent.

Coun Grenville Jackson warned: “It would be the biggest retrograde step ever.”

Chairing the meeting, Mayor Coun David Suiter said: “If there is any intimidation it should be referred to the monitoring officer at NKDC as a standards board issue and anyone who feels intimidated should consult the clerk and we should take measures.”

Coun Mark Graves added: “I am disappointed that those councillors cannot feel that they can act and vote independently, but when electing a chairman and deputy I would prefer a show of hands.”

This was ech9oed by Couns John Charlesworth and Garry Titmus among others.

When asked to comment on the allegations following the meeting, leader of the Lincolnshire Independents on the council, Coun Grenville Jackson, told The Standard: “I want the Town Council to work together for the benefit of the town. All the petty squabbling is not doing anyone any good. The allegations of bullying are total nonsense and if Coun Snookes has got any issue he must take it through the proper channels.”

The decision to scrap the leader’s role was taken after debate in which members cited official advice suggesting the leader’s role had no powers and was mainly to represent the largest group within a politicised council.

It was argued by Coun Brand that this did not apply and the role was unnecessary when the chairman had the support of a deputy. The position will not be renewed at the forthcoming annual meeting.

Coun Jackson, current leader of the council, had argued: “One of the main reasons is to support the chairman and support the clerk.”

The council agreed to do away with working groups and reconfigure panels handling council business. They will now be: HR; Assets; Culture, events and markets; and Services, reporting to full council.