I have a duty to all taxpayers

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AS a councillor for the parish for 30-plus years I have faithfully endeavoured to put the interests of the people and community at large above personal affronts and insults.

For standing up to the incompetence and abuse of ratepayers’ time and funds I have been stigmatised and vilified by some members of Long Melford Parish Council, Babergh District Council and the press.

The facts are as follows.

For some time I had had serious concerns regarding the performance of the former parish clerk, Linda Goodban, in her execution of duties.

She had on various occasions failed to adhere to instructions of the council and was less than forthcoming with the truth when challenged.

Matters came to a head when in January she attempted to fudge and fabricate evidence and the minutes of a meeting. Her arbitrary time-keeping and selective office hours put added pressure on me as my business is adjacent to the council office resulting in members of the public calling on me on council matters when the office was closed because of Ms Goodban’s unpredictable absences.

Accordingly in January I wrote to the then chairman of the council, John Watts, calling for the clerk’s dismissal “or at least her suspension and a full investigation into the parish council office and working procedures”.

Mr Watts ignored my request and subsequent emails and tabled my complaints as an agenda item at a meeting of the council in February.

He ordered that I, and my wife, who is also a council member, leave the meeting as the item was to be discussed “in camera”.

I made my views forcibly about the clerk’s intransigent attitude to the councillors and asked both the chairman and the clerk to cross refer to the minutes of a September 2011 meeting regarding the parish council’s instructions about certain letters that the clerk was supposed to have sent.

When they refused to do so, I got up to look at the minute book myself.

At this point the Police Community Support Officer, who was at the meeting to give her report, intervened and subsequently called for police back-up. I was indeed agitated by the lack of openness and honesty of the chairman and clerk at the meeting but had no cause to be restrained. I then left the meeting.

A spate of complaints was made to Babergh District Council by Ms Goodban and her partner, councillor David Walters, accusing me of bullying and intimidation and bringing the council into disrepute.

I complained to Babergh about Mr Watts for his failure to follow procedures and his poor handing of the meeting which had resulted in the ensuing acrimony.

Babergh rejected my complaint.

In April Ms Goodban went on sick leave claiming work related stress.

The Suffolk Association of Local Councils (SALC), stepped in and installed a locum clerk with apparently a remit to conduct an independent investigation into the conduct of the clerk and running of the parish office.

Its report states that some of her actions were “unlawful” and concludes that “if she had not resigned she would probably have been summarily dismissed.”

Ms Goodban tendered her resignation on July 19.

I had repeatedly asked Kathryn Saward, the monitoring officer at Babergh, to withhold its decision into the complaints against me until the findings of the SALC enquiry were made known, but to no avail.

Hence, Babergh’s standards committee on August 30 published its decision to charge me with bringing Long Melford Parish Council into disrepute without full knowledge of the facts, but noticeably cleared me of the charges of bullying and intimidation of the clerk.

As a parish councillor of long standing I had a legal and moral duty to ensure that the minutes of the council were correctly recorded, to highlight abuse of office and lack of proper procedures, and to illustrate failures to follow council notifications which have now incurred additional costs for the council.

I also could not allow the then chairman to cover up for the clerk not carrying out her responsibilities as required and paid for.

Uppermost, I have a duty to council taxpayers that their money is used wisely and not frittered away because of the inefficiency on the part of the parish clerk.

I have asked the monitoring officer (Ms Saward) of Babergh and its standards committee to reinvestigate the complaints against me in the light of the damning evidence that SALC has uncovered.

Up to now the monitoring officer has stated “there is no right to appeal against its decision” which flies in the face of human rights legislation on justice.

Your paper’s report and the mention of a previous suspension, which also resulted because of the poor conduct of the meeting by the then chairman, further vilifies me.

In the interest of justice for all whistle-blowers, I expect your paper to set the record straight.

RICHARD MICHETTE

Clopton Drive

Long Melford