By Betsy Everett
A Dales parish council should have held a vote in public when it chose to reject three potential new councillors, a senior district council official has said.
Instead, Hawes and High Abbotside parish councillors held a secret ballot after interviewing five candidates for four vacancies, giving no explanation of the outcome.
The unsuccessful candidates received two-line emails just three days later.
Only after an intervention from Richmondshire District Council were the votes repeated at a public meeting the following month, and only after direct requests from the candidates were they told why they had been turned down, leaving two vacancies still unfilled.
Democratic services officer for Richmondshire District Council, Paul Clark, described the sending of the rejection emails as “slightly premature”.
In response to a complaint from one candidate, Andrew Fagg, Mr Clark wrote: “Decisions on co-options must be made and voted upon… at a properly convened meeting of the parish council, rather than at an informal interview as was conducted on 18 September.
“Holding such interviews is quite acceptable – but the outcomes must be taken and voted upon at a meeting of the council before they are to take effect.”
Mr Fagg said the fact that the votes had already been held in secret was not made public at the meeting of the parish council in October, a claim borne out by the minutes, available here: http://www.hawesandhighabbotsidepc.co.uk
“In fact, in her introduction, Jill [McMullon, chair] said the district had complimented the council on holding a good co-option process, which is not the impression I got from Paul Clark.”
Mr Fagg, a journalist and media officer with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said he was at a loss to understand why he had been rejected.
In an email to all parish council members, he wrote: “I have at least 300 years of family history in the parish. I grew up here and was schooled here.
“I live in Hawes. I am raising my family here. I volunteer for community organisations.. I am a Methodist local preacher. I am under 40. There are far better people than me to serve on the parish council but I am at a loss to understand why you’ve turned me down in preference for maintaining empty seats.”
Mr Fagg said he timed his interview at the Gayle Institute and it lasted three and a half minutes. Another candidate, who did not want to be named, said he was “shocked” that his interview lasted at most five minutes.
“I was back in Hawes within ten minutes to meet my wife. She didn’t think I’d even been interviewed it was all so quick. I faced about six quick-fire questions and that was it. I got the impression as soon as I walked in that they had already made their minds up.
“I thought they wanted fresh blood and that’s what I would have brought to the council. I got no explanation, just a brief email in less than a week. It was John Blackie who’d suggested some months ago that I should apply, and that’s what put the idea into my head.”
He said he was not informed that the votes would be re-staged at the public meeting of the council in October.
“I didn’t even know there had been a meeting until somebody told me two days later,” he said.
Another candidate who was rejected after what he says was a five-minute interview was Jake Dinsdale, 30, owner and managing director of the luxury Simonstone Hall Hotel, recently placed in the Sunday Times top 100 hotels in the UK and the subject of a Channel 4 documentary.
In the summer, Mr Dinsdale received a Countryside Alliance award in the House of Lords as a rural enterprise champion.
He, too, said his interview lasted only around five minutes and consisted of “quick-fire questions” which he was barely given time to respond to without being interrupted. He also had been encouraged by Mr Blackie to stand.
“He said we want young, local people to come on board. I’m 30 years old, I run a very successful business employing local people and promoting the area I love and that I am so passionate about. I’m a school governor. I was born and brought up here. I went to school here: I’m a Dinsdale, for heaven’s sake, and you can’t get much more local than that.”
In a letter to the parish council following the first vote – which according to Mr Clark did not count – Mr Dinsdale wrote: “I often hear that people can be apathetic when it comes to committees, and that young people should be more involved.
“Therefore it sits particularly uncomfortably that when people put themselves forward they are rejected with so little explanation.”
In a statement Jill McMullon, chair of Hawes and High Abbotside Parish Council, said: “The parish council agreed the recruitment process which would be in the form of interviews which would then be ratified at a parish council meeting. Richmondshire District Council were consulted throughout.
“All applicants were asked the same set of questions and asked if they wanted to add anything at the end. We were asked by a couple of applicants why they were unsuccessful and we responded by email accordingly. It would be entirely inappropriate to comment on individual applications.”
Three vacancies will be re-advertised on the council’s website with a closing date for applications of 5pm on Monday, December 30.
The third vacancy arose following the recent resignation of long-standing councillor, Stuart Hunter.