STUDLEY Parish Council has been plunged into crisis following the resignation of four councillors – a third of the council – with a further two said to be ‘considering their positions’.
The council this year controls a budget of £186,000 raised from the council tax precept.
Those who have resigned are significant – Brian Crow, Matt Fox and Zoe Tolley represented new and younger blood on the authority, with the latter two voicing frustration at the council’s reluctance to engage with the public.
The departure of Sue Redman, 18 years a councillor and three times chair, leaves the council perilously short on experience, particularly with the long term sickness of parish clerk Lesley Gailey.
All four have been reluctant to speak out but what is beginning to emerge are claims of bullying and intimidation and ‘circumventing the democratic process’.
At one parish meeting on May 19, stand-in clerk Gill Lungley, referring to Coun Paul Beaman – the most experienced and longest serving member of the authority – is clearly heard asking council chair Colin Summers: ‘Tell him to stop talking’.
Coun Beaman at the time was slamming questions raised in an additional audit into the council books – which had previously been approved and passed by the council’s own auditors and councillors themselves, describing it as ‘an appalling document’ and a ‘witchhunt’.
Former councillors Zoe Tolley and Matt Fox’s efforts to engage with the public through social media also met with opposition amid claims that what they were doing was ‘unlawful’.
A resignation letter seen by the Standard speaks of “a consistent theme of bullying and intimidation within Council.”
Questions have also been raised over the employment on the temporary clerk, as no staff vacancy was advertised, there was no recruitment process with the decision to employ was taken behind closed doors with the chair’s casting vote.
Former councillors also say more extraordinary meetings have been called by the chair in the last four months than in the previous 20 years.
Studley also has a tradition of rotating the chair of the council, with the previous incumbent stepping down, yet for the third year running Coun Summers stood and was re-elected on a split vote.
Regarding these issues Coun Summers said: “We are in the middle of an audit and this looks not only at finance but also governance and any issue identified will be dealt with promptly.
“We take any allegation of bullying very seriously and if there was any cases these would be sent to the monitoring officer at Stratford District Council.”
He added that payments for the temporary clerk were from reserves adding: “We have a very good group of councillors who are all volunteers who give up their time for the council.”