The resignation of veteran Town Councillor Sam Souster shortly after being re-elected has led to a Casual Vacancy occurring, which could cost the town around £5,500 for another election. Hopes that the vacancy would be filled by co-option were dashed at Tuesday’s meeting of the council to elect new committees following the recent election as, though Town Clerk Richard Farhall had not heard officially of any call for an election, councillors had heard there was a strong possibility there might be – and were concerned at the possible cost. The deadline for calling an election is early next week.
Farhall believes the cost to the town if an election is called could exceed £5,000, but he has not yet had the bill from Rother District Council for the recent election. That might be less, but could be misleading as costs were shared between three elections – for the Member of Parliament, and District and Town Councillors. Farhall says “a by election is generally about £500 more”. After hearing there might be another election, new councillor John Izod said “this is just a joke” and Mayor Bernardine Fiddimore said it would be “a shame” if an election was called and both she and Councillor Rebekah Gilbert called for as much publicity as possible about the likely cost.
Councillor Cheryl Creaser said “we must encourage these people to go for co-option, and make people aware of the cost”, but Deputy Mayor Jonathan Breeds pointed out “rightly or wrongly it is the democratic process”. Those wanting an election may feel that possible candidates will get more support from the electors than other councillors if they promise to get the council to be more active. But the Town Council’s powers have been limited since the 1970s, and many issues are decided by either the District Council (Rother) or the County Council (East Sussex).
Farhall has announced the vacancy in line with Section 87 (2) of the Local Government Act 1972 and an election must be held if 10 electors give notice in writing to the Returning Officer, who is in Bexhill at Rother District Council’s offices. Electors have 14 days from when the vacancy was announced (May 12), not counting Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, to do so. Tuesday, June 2 is the deadline.
However, if no election is called, the vacancy shall be filled by the Town Council as soon as practicable in accordance with Rule 5 (3) of the Local Elections (Parishes and Communities) Rules 1986 and Farhall suggested a provisional date for this of Monday July 6 at Tuesday’s meeting. The last time someone was co-opted was 2013, when there were six candidates for one place. The newly elected councillors will decide who will take the vacancy by voting until one candidate has an absolute majority.
Souster, whose resignation has created the vacancy, had been on the Town Council for 16 years and on the District Council for eight years, and was a former Mayor of Rye. In his letter of resignation he suggests the vacancy should be filled by Ella Bishop, who was the only candidate not elected in the recent Town Council election. Souster, in his 80s, lost his District Council seat to the Conservatives and stood as a Labour candidate for both the District and Town Councils.
Potential candidates for co-option do not necessarily have to be on the electoral roll but, if they are not, they must either:
- live within three miles of Rye
- have been working in Rye or had a business in Rye for 12 months
- have lived in the town for 12 months even if not on the register
- or own property in the town.
Interested parties can contact Town Clerk Richard Farhall for more information. He will probably want some brief details on why they want to stand and candidates should then be prepared to answer questions from the current councillors.
Charles Harkness is a newly elected Rye Town Councillor