No change at the town council after Honiton Residents’ petition discussed

The Beehive in Honiton. Ref mhh 42 19TI 2191. Picture: Terry Ife

The Beehive in Honiton. Ref mhh 42 19TI 2191. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

The structure of Honiton Town Council will remain as is – for now – after a petition to dissolve the authority failed to produce the desired result for those who signed it.

Dozens of people packed out the Mackarness Hall for the town council’s meeting on Wednesday (March 11), where councillors debated a motion put forward by Councillor James Wyatt that members resign and seek re-election if demand for their seats is strong enough.

The heated council meeting, which saw two councillors resign on the spot, resulted in no motion being made after chair Cllr John Zarczynski was given the casting vote on whether to support or object to an option which asked members to resign.

The option proposed the town clerk accepts nominations for all town council positions in the next month. It said if there are two candidates per position, the town council should deem an election as a ‘productive activity’ for Honiton, and councillors be asked to resign and seek re-election should they choose to.

The motion was created off the back of a petition launched by a group called ‘Honiton Residents’, which has had attracted more than 500 signatures.

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Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, Cllr Zarczynski said he was concerned that he did not know where the petition came from and was ‘probably fired up’ when town clerk Mark Tredwin withdrew from a council meeting last month.

Cllr Zarczynski also queried the true representation of Honiton-based voters on the petition.

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He said: “I believe this petition does contain people that don’t actually have the right to vote in this town.

“The other thing about this petition that concerns me is it has been circulated in public houses.”

Cllr Jill McNally told the public she refused to give up her seat and said there were many councillors who do lots of work that people do not consider or think about.

She said: “I am legally elected. I have lots of work to do – I intend to carry on doing it.

“I cannot be removed from my legally elected seat unless I have done something which means I can be removed by those in authority. I refuse to leave my seat because of some people want me to who have no idea what I do.”

Cllr Caroline Kolek, Honiton’s former mayor, said councillors should have ‘nothing to fear’ if they were to resign and put themselves up for re-election.

She said: “If we really believe that we are acting in the best interests of the public and are serving our local residents then we should have nothing to fear.

“This is about listening to the people of Honiton and respecting the people of Honiton.”

Deputy mayor Cllr Duncan Sheridan-Shaw, who will be standing for the mayoral seat in May this year, said while he was delighted with the public turnout, the petition had resulted in ‘adverse side-effects’.

Cllr Sheridan-Shaw said he was subject to a homophobic slur by a member of the public, who told the councillor he ‘would not win’.

Cllr Sheridan-Shaw said: “If you want me to resign and stand again, of course I will because I have got too much going on.

“Also off the back of that, I encourage you all to contact me – email me your concerns and worries. We all have a soapbox in which we want to elect ourselves.

“Mine was transparency and openness.”

Two councillors – brothers Nathan and James Hannay – quit the council at the meeting.

Cllr Nathan Hannay said from ‘day one’, he witnessed a ‘massive debate and people falling out everywhere’.

He said since then, he has not seen a change, and announced his resignation from the council.

Cllr Jason Hannay pledged to carry on the work he has been doing in the community regarding VE Day and his involvement with the college. He said he would re-stand and ‘offer the town what they actually want’.

Councillors were asked on three options put forward by Cllr Wyatt.

The first, to accept the concerns of the public but not to uphold the petition, was voted against by 10 votes to four.

The second, to fully accept the terms of the proposal of the petition, with all councillors asked to resign and seek re-election should they choose to, was also voted down, by nine votes to five.

The third option, which was purely to indicate what the majority of the council would like to see happen, was deadlocked at seven votes for and seven against.

The casting vote fell to Cllr Zarczynski, who had previously voted against.

He exercised his casting vote and voted against the option.

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