Saturday 20th April 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

WTC: Mayoral Mix-Up

May 13, 2023 Whitby Town

WTC: Mayoral Mix-Up

  • – an “In My View” article NIGEL WARD, offering an autodidact’s opinion on the confusion over the election of the new Mayor of Whitby.

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As reported elsewhere on the Enquirer, I attended the Annual Meeting of Whitby Town Council at 6:00pm on Tuesday 2nd May 2023.

The Annual Meeting of every Town/Parish Council is required by law to set, as the first Item on the Agenda, the election of the Chair (or, in the case of Town Councils) Mayor, after which the outgoing Chair/Mayor steps down and hands over the Chain of Office to her/his successor- which may, in fact, be (and sometimes is) her/himself.

At the 2nd May 2023 Annual Meeting, I was surprised to hear the outgoing Mayor, Councillor Linda WILD, commence proceedings by announcing that nominations for election to the office of Chair/Mayor would not be accepted on behalf of prospective candidates who were not present at the Meeting.

Mine were not the only raised eyebrows; several Councillors were visibly taken aback by this unusual ‘ruling’. When challenged, the outgoing Mayor deferred to the Town Clerk/RFO, Mr Michael KING, who appeared to have anticipated queries and lost no time in citing Standing Orders, conveniently ready to hand.

The passage that the Town Clerk cited from Standing Orders, both in its pre-existing 17th May 2022 version and in the draft May 2023 version (to be ratified further down the Agenda), reads as follows:

26. Standing Orders Generally

d) The decision of a chair of a meeting as to the application of standing orders at the meeting shall be final.

What I did not hear the Clerk/RFO cite was the particular Standing Order pertaining to the election of a Chair/Mayor. This might have been helpful. I have word-searched the Standing Orders and not found a specific reference to the election of Chair/Mayor, other than the following:

5. Ordinary Council Meetings

e) The first business conducted at the annual meeting of the council shall be the election of the Chair and Vice-Chair (if any) of the Council.

j)  Following the election of the Chair of the Council (Town Mayor) and Vice-Chair (Deputy Town Mayor) of the Council at the annual meeting of the council, the
business of the annual meeting shall include:

i) In an election year, delivery by the Chair of the Council and councillors of their acceptance of office forms unless the council resolves for this to be done at a later date. In a year which is not an election year, delivery by the Chair of the Council of their acceptance of office form unless the council resolves for this to be done at a later date;

[thereafter, the meeting must proceed in the usual manner]

Clearly, nothing in Standing Orders prohibits the election of an absent Councillor.

But Standing Orders are, at best, merely a potted summary of the statutory legal requirements, as set out in Schedule 12 of the Local Government Act 1972.

It is s.83 of the Local Government Act 1972 that applies:

83 Declaration of acceptance of office.

(1) The person elected to any of the following offices, that is to say, the office of chairman, vice-chairman, [F1presiding member, deputy presiding member,] F2. . . councillor [F3or elected mayor] of the council of a county [F4, county borough], district or London borough F5. . . shall not, unless he has made a declaration of acceptance of office in a form prescribed by [F6 an order made by the Secretary of State], and the declaration has within two months from the day of the election been delivered to the proper officer of the council, act in the office except for the purpose of taking such a declaration.

In plain language, the statute requires that the Councillor elected to the office of Chair (Mayor) shall not act in that office unless/until she/he has signed a declaration of acceptance of office, which must be performed within two months.

This period of two months’ grace clearly acknowledges the possibility that a Councillor may be elected to the office of Chair (Mayor) even if absent, in which case, the office of Chair must be perfomed by the duly elected Deputy Chair (Deputy Mayor), until such time as the elected Chair/Mayor has signed the Declaration of Acceptance of Office, which must take place within two months, whereupon the duly elected Chair/Mayor takes over.

In my view, this leaves little doubt that the outgoing Chair/Mayor, Councillor Linda WILD, did not have the statutory authority to exclude absent Councillors from nomination for the election of the incoming Chair/Mayor – since Standing Orders can never take precedence over primary legislation. And, in my view, it is self-evident that the legislation authorises the election of an absent Councillor to the position of Chair/Mayor.

True, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE did indeed sign his Acceptance of Office in the proper manner, at the Meeting, thus satisfying the requirements to enable him to assume the Chairship and conduct the remainder of the Meeting, but – and it is a very BIG BUTwas he elected following the unlawful exclusion of another candidate?

If so, then Councillor DALRYMPLE cannot be said to be the duly elected Mayor of Whitby.

Thus, the Town Clerk/RFO’s advice that, under section 26(d) of the Standing Orders, the outgoing Chair/Mayor had ultimate authority to exclude absent Councillors apparently stands at variance with the terms of s.83 of the Local Government Act 1972, as set out above, which MUST take precedence.

In summation, I take no issue with Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE being the Mayor of Whitby, always provided that his election to the position has been lawfully conducted – and can be seen to have been lawfully conducted.

Quite separately to this bone of contention, there is also the matter of the way in which, towards the very end of the Meeting (limited to a duration of 3 hours), Councillors were incorrectly elected to positions on the various Committees. The procedure for such appointments is set out in Article 8(a) of the Standing Orders, as follows:

This section is entirely consonant with legislation.

I was not present during this procedure, but I am reliably informed that, for reasons of time pressure, the procedure was ‘abbreviated’ – i.e. not correctly followed. Thus, it seems to be the case that not only the Chair/Mayor but also the Committee members were not lawfully elected.

Unsurprisingly, there has been some considerable ‘behind the scenes’ contention over these extraordinary turns of events – over which I propose, for the moment, to draw a discreet veil, in the hope that all can be resolved without any undesirable mummery or animosity.

But there is one rather serious concomitant to the likelihood that the election of Councillor DALRYMPLE to the role of Chair/Mayor was apparently unlawful – and that is that, if such was the case, then the entirety of the Meeting over which he presided from that point onwards was also unlawful; all of the Resolutions taken at the Meeting were unlawful, including the appointments to Committees, which (for two reasons) were unlawful, too.

A ‘STOP PRESS’ brief summary of the foregoing appeared in the Enquirer (here) following the publication of the new Mayor’s Open Letter to the people of Whitby which, I am pleased to report, has been widely read and generally well received, and is reproduced below:

I have since sought the Town Clerk/RFO’s view on the accuracy of the above report and he has registered no exception to the text cited above.

I should conclude by re-iterating that I take no issue with the new Mayor personally (I have never met the man and he may well be the best Councillor for that role), but I do believe – no offence to Mr KING, the Town Clerk/RFO (“To err is human”) – that it would be right and proper for him to hold up his hands and convene an Extraordinary Meeting of the Town Council for the express purpose of conducting an incontrovertibly lawful election of a new Chair/Mayor (and Deputy Chair) and a lawful process for appointing Committee members.

It seems to me to be more than likely that Councillor DALRYMPLE will come out on top and I feel sure that he would wish to do so in an unimpeachable manner.

We can hardly move forward into the new era of North Yorkshire as a unitary authority having fluffed our opening lines.

My opinions, as set out above, reflect my desire for Whitby to have the best Council possible – underpinned by fastidious compliance with the law.


Mr MICHAEL KING
Whitby Town Clerk & Responsible Financial Officer

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