Published: 12:41, 25 September 2020
| Updated: 12:43, 25 September 2020
Nine residents put themselves forward to fill three of the five vacancies on the trouble-torn Sheerness Town Council on Monday night.
Amanda Green quit at the start of last week and joined other disappointed councillors Steve Richie (who was co-opted) and Lee McCall. Malcolm Staines, who collected for the homeless outside SpecSavers, was the first to jump ship but cited health concerns.
Cherise Moorcroft, who chaired the community and environment committee, also submitted her resignation last week.
Each of the applicants was allowed three minutes to say why they wanted the job and after a 30-minute private discussion between the remaining councillors Matt Bromley, Peter MacDonald and Linda Brinklow were offered the seats.
Matt Bromley, 52, a former fireman and Round Tabler from Sheerness, said he was born and bred on the Island and was passionate to see the town return to its former glory for future generations.
Linda Brinklow from Halfway was concerned Sheerness had no emergency flood plans and that the Island needed a joined up transport policy.
Peter MacDonald from Minster, who will be 80 next month, already serves on Minster parish council and Swale council.
After overcoming problems with his mute button he told the meeting via Zoomthat his "great grandpa" moved to Sheerness in 1860 to work in the dockyard. He has experience with traffic management and said the town's traffic lights were "poor" and a lack of proper investment in Sheerness had been "appalling."
Cllr Brown welcomed them all and said: "Hopefully this will be the beginning of something better for the town council."
He invited the other candidates to apply again for the two new vacancies.
Vice-chairman Brian Spoor who had campaigned to form the council had also threatened to quit but later agreed to stay on.
Town clerk Yvette Cheesman handed in her notice after less than six months in the job claiming the atmosphere was “most obnoxious.”
Chairman Matt Brown and his colleague Chris Foulds, who chairs the finance and governance committee, each faced a motion of no confidence launched by Lee McCall, Amanda Green and vice-chairman Brian Spoor but the motion was withdrawn.
The council had been advertising for three “casual vacancies” on social media to fill the empty slots.
Cllr McCall, who also represents Sheerness on Swale council, said: “Before my resignation I asked for information about bank statements, contracts of council employees and policy documentation but none was forthcoming.
“I could have stayed and fought for some change from within and I did try while I was there. But it became apparent that there was no changing the direction the council was going in. It would have put my position on Swale council in jeopardy.I was left with no choice but to leave even though it was not something I wanted to do.”
In his resignation post on social media he described the atmosphere as “toxic.” This week he said: “I am still passionate about the town I grew up in and love. But right now, the town council is being run like a dictatorship and is totally undemocratic.”
Miss Green said before Monday’s meeting: “My concern is that the remaining councillors have not had a vote regarding co-opting or sending the vacancies out to election. There have been vacancies for many months. It was not fully discussed at council meetings. When I asked questions about having an election there was no answer.
“I believe strongly that with this many vacancies the residents of Sheerness and the business people deserve the right to elect their councillors. Surely with this number it would justify the expenditure?”
She said she was now campaigning for a change in the 2010 Equalities Act following her experience on the council.
Cllr Brown, 53, said to hold an election, 10 members of the public registered in the district had to requestit.
“No requests were received. But if such an election had been requested this would not have been until May 2021 which would not have been ideal.”
He said the vote of no confidence came from Cllr McCall “suggesting” Cllr Spoor was requesting it.
He added: “Clearly this was not a valid request. Cllr Spoor was quick to withdraw his support for the vote. If this had this gone ahead I would have stood down and we could not have elected a new chair.
“It would almost certainly have meant the council would have collapsed.”
He said Cllr McCall had been on the finance and governance committee and had access to bank statements and policy documents.
He added: "None of these complaints came direct to the chair. We have processes in place to deal with complaints and if I am found to be wrong I will take it on the chin. The buck stops with me. But in this case I honestly don't think we have done anything wrong.
"It was always going to be a huge challenge setting up a new council from scratch with nine strangers all with different ideas and there was always going to be clashes. That happens in councils. Don't forget we have also been trying to do all this during the coronavirus lockdown.
"At times we have all thought about throwing in the towel. No one said it would be a walk in the park but it is time to stop all the negativity and concentrate on the future."
He added: "I think we have a much stronger team now. I wouldn't say we have been in crisis but we have certainly had a reshuffle. I hope the applicants who weren't successful on Monday will reapply for the two new vacancies. We need representation from people who run businesses in the town."
None of the original councillors were elected as only eight applied for the nine seats. Steve Richie was co-opted later.
The council has £158,388 to spend in Sheerness. It is about to advertise for a new clerk.