Local Liberal Democrats have written to the chief executive of Test Valley Borough Council calling for an explanation and action in the case of disgraced Conservative ex-councillor Ellie Charnley.
Mrs Charnley was automatically disqualified as a councillor in January after failing to attend meetings for six months (see previous story here).. Despite this she later attended and participated in meetings and presumably continued to draw her councillor’s allowance. Her non-attendance was raised on a number of occasions but no action was taken either by council officers or the council leadership. The facts are as follows
- Mrs Charnley attended a planning on 22nd July 2014 and no other meetings between then and 21st January at which time she was automatically disqualified as a councillor. It also appears she has not attended any Overview and Scrutiny committee meetings, the most important committee for protecting the public’s interests, since 2011.
- Her lack of attendance was reported on 15th January. Despite this no-one within Test Valley Borough Council was aware that she was automatically disqualified from 21st January.
- Mrs Charnley attended planning meetings on 22nd January and 12th February. She was not entitled to do so. By allowing this the council has exposed itself to a possible judicial review if an aggrieved resident felt so inclined.
- On 31st March Mrs Charnley was still listed as a councillor and still referred to as a councillor by officers. Council officers were advised of this and a response requested. A further email of 7th April asked for action. No response has been received.
- The matter was again raised at a council meeting on 15th April 2015; officers were unaware of the situation and not prepared to give an answer. They eventually replied on 1st May – over three months after Mrs. Charnley ceased to be a councillor.
Lib Dem councillors are now asking for urgent answers to the following questions
- Is the chief executive satisfied with the handling of this matter?
- Did Mrs Charnley receive her councillor’s pay after 21st January?
- If so what action has been taken to have the allowance paid back?
- What action will be taken to prevent a re-occurrence of this?
Vice chairman of North West Hants Liberal Democrats commented “this is unacceptable. A councillor has abused the system and yet no action has been taken either by officers or council leaders. Rather than address the problem there appears to be an effort to ignore it in the hope that no-one would notice.”
Andover councillor Nigel Long said “the timetable of responses is simply not good enough. Residents expect their councillors to represent them and make decisions on their behalf. By her behaviour Mrs Charnley has failed in her public duties and compromised the integrity of the council.”
Fellow councillor Katherine Bird added “It is shocking that there is apparently so little awareness of the law which disqualified Mrs Charnley after six months of absence. It is made worse by the delay in dealing with the situation after it was brought to the attention of the administration. These things need to be addressed immediately.”