A very casual vacancy

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The ancient an unrepresented town of Winchelsea

It would seem that Westminster is not the only political cockpit to see careers unravel this week. Icklesham parish council has been at it as well.

Readers will be aware of the series of casual vacancies that have occurred in the Winchelsea ward of Icklesham parish council. Twice since the 2013 parish council elections, ward councillors have resigned and, despite a ready supply of candidates from Winchelsea, the council has insisted on co-opting non-residents, only to find that they quickly lose their enthusiasm for representing the Ancient Town.

In May 2015, Icklesham parish council pushed aside a Winchelsea resident to co-opt Brian Pope of Winchelsea Beach to fill a casual vacancy. Mr Pope resigned in March 2016. In May, the council (or rather, councillors from the wards of Icklesham, Rye Harbour and Winchelsea Beach) pushed aside three Winchelsea residents to co-opt Patsy Hollands, also of Winchelsea Beach.

Well, it has happened again. The latest co-opted councillor for Winchelsea ward has resigned. And this time, it appears that Icklesham parish council has been trying to hide the news in order to avoid the embarrassment of losing their preferred candidate even before she had attended her first full council meeting. News of Mrs Hollands’ resignation leaked in June, after a member of the public asked why she was not at her first full council meeting.

It is alleged that the council has been trying to delay the news until after this month’s meeting in order to try to reach the summer recess, so that an announcement could be pushed into September. A four-month tenure in office would certainly have looked much better than less than a month (although the council would have broken the law by failing to declare a casual vacancy within a “reasonable time” after it had occurred). But with the news of Mrs Hollands’ resignation circulating in Winchelsea Beach before the July meeting, that ruse became untenable.

Confusion reigns as to Mrs Hollands’ motives. In her resignation letter, she said that her decision was due to the “unpleasantness” she had encountered and complained that “of all the councillors who said they would apologise for comments I received, not one has”. Have her fellow councillors been badgering Mrs Hollands? At the meeting on Monday, the council refused to answer questions from the public about her resignation.

The question now being asked in Winchelsea is, can Icklesham parish council find a third non-resident in less than a year to stand for co-option for Winchelsea ward? And even if they can, how long will that person last this time?

Photo: Richard Comotto

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