Haslemere Town Council has taken action against councillors Nikki Barton and Kirsten Ellis after Waverley’s standards panel ruled that they broke the town council’s code of conduct.
At a fiery extraordinary council meeting on Monday, a motion was proposed that Cllr Barton does not attend a planning or any neighbourhood plan committee or working party until the end of the council term. Six councillors voted in favour of the motion, with six against and one abstention. Town mayor Cllr Jacquie Keen voted in favour of the motion, so it was passed.
Seven councillors voted in favour of a motion that Cllr Ellis is suspended from Haslemere Town Council’s planning committee for two weeks from January 1. Six councillors voted against the motion.
In July, Waverley’s standards panel ruled that Cllr Ellis had breached the code of conduct for failing to adequately register her membership of the Haslemere South Residents’ Association at a meeting on November 28, 2019, as well as failing to exclude herself from consideration of the Neighbourhood Plan by withdrawing from the chamber.
Waverley’s standards panel ruled Cllr Barton should have declared a non-pecuniary interest as a Haslemere South Residents’ Association member at the November 28, 2019, meeting, and ruled she breached the code of conduct for failing to leave the meeting when the Red Court boundary was being discussed.
Cllrs Barton and Ellis lost their appeals against those rulings.
Cllr Barton questioned the legitimacy of Monday’s meeting. “I consider it an illegal meeting,” she said.
Cllr Keen said: “None of us are happy to be sat here, and it is as difficult for us as it is for you.”
Some town councillors called for strong action against Cllrs Barton and Ellis.
Cllr Melanie Odell said: “There has been a breach of the code, and if we are not seen to put some sanction in place then we condone the breach.
“I don’t think that’s correct. Otherwise, it’s just open season on anything we do.”
Cllr Simon Dear said: “We need to take action that clearly reassures the public that the council, as a body, takes these breaches seriously.
“We need to reassure the public, by our action, that those that submit planning applications can do so without fear or favour and without bias to interested groups.”
Other councillors spoke in favour of Cllrs Barton and Ellis.
Cllr Terry Weldon said: “My belief is they already have been through a major ordeal, in terms of stress, time and serious expense. This petty and vindictive process has been allowed to go on far too long.”
Cllr Claire Matthes said: “In Cllr Barton and Cllr Ellis I believe we have two good councillors with the best interests of the communities they serve at heart. I am strongly against imposing sanctions that would actually impact the residents they represent the most.”
Cllr Conrad Waters said: “We have these rules to govern council process, and I don’t think it’s right to make light of them and to say they’re technicalities. However, there is another side to this. I think a suspension from planning immediately, and to go on for the full length of the council, isn’t proportionate. It’s too much.”