Row threatens to divide Huntingdon council

A CALL was made for Huntingdon town councillors to set their differences aside and put the interests of the community first, as tempers flared at a meeting last week.

Councillors clashed at the full council meeting on whether mayor Jennifer Sarabia was right to speak and vote at a staffing sub-committee held last month to agree the way forward for Huntingdon Town Hall’s restoration scheme.

In a statement read ahead of the meeting, Cllr Sarabia, who was absent, argued though she had resigned as a committee member, she was acting as an ex-officio, and had every right to speak and vote.

But town clerk Karen Cameron said there was nothing in standing orders to support Cllr Sarabia’s claim, and that she had set a precedent by speaking and voting at the meeting.

Ms Cameron said: “Following the staffing sub committee, I was contacted by a member of this council who advised me that they considered there was a discrepancy about the membership of the meeting.

“I took advise from CPALC (the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Assocication of Local Councils) and revisited an email from the mayor. It said ‘I am resigning from the grounds and staffing sub-committee as in the past the mayor has not been allowed to stay on these in case any problems occur.’

“It is these words from the mayor that I took to indicate that she wished to resign and attended the staffing sub-committee in error.”

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But deputy mayor Susan Mulcahy, who chaired the full council meeting in Cllr Sarabia’s absence, defended the mayor’s right to be present.

She said: “Cllr Sarabia resigned as a member of the committees, but she had not resigned as mayor. The standing orders say she can be there.”

It was decided at the staffing sub-committee, the council would advertise for a project manager to oversee the �1 million town hall improvements.

The role had previously been filled on a voluntary basis by former councillor Brian Luckham, but after his involvement was called into question, he was dropped from the scheme and later resigned as a councillor.

Cllr John Morgan blamed the casual nature of e-mails for the current storm affecting the council, and called for calm.

He said: “As councillors, we are elected to serve the people of Huntingdon to the best of their ability. The staff were appointed to amekk sure the people of Huntingdon are served well.

“In the last few weeks though we have got distracted from our goals. These are difficult times, money is tight. We need to stop politicking and get back to our real job doing out best for the community.

“Lets prove though we are politicians at local level we can act honourably and prove we can act in the interests not of ourselves but in the interests of Huntindon.”

Councillors voted to reject the staffing sub-committee minutes and hold the meeting again. It was recommended the mayor should be asked whether she would like to attend the meeting and in what capacity.