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Leaderless

LeaderlessIn our article 'Illegitimate' we broke the news that Fylde's Leader David Eaves was not its leader at all.

His term of office as Leader expired (according to statute) on 23 May 2011 and he has not been elected Leader since.

As we predicted - and in a style that we think would put even Chris Hulme to shame - Fylde first tried to tough it out. To pretend nothing was wrong.

The destruction of professional integrity that this dreadful Cabinet system and its subsequent media management policy have wrought, means that it is now considered OK for those in power to avoid telling the truth, to distort facts, and to obfuscate with abandon in order to minimise what is nowadays referred to as a council's "reputational risk"

We know that recently, this leadership matter was drawn to the attention of Fylde's Chief Executive in private.

We believe he failed to properly investigate what he had been told.

The story then moved here to counterbalance where we picked it up. We investigated the situation in some detail and made our view known in 'Illegitimate?'.

In simple terms, we believe the position is this.

David Eaves was properly elected as a Councillor along with another 50 Councillors in the Borough election of May 2007.

Three years later, in May 2010 when former Leader John Coombes resigned, Cllr David Eaves was properly elected Leader of the Council by a vote of that full Council.

A year later in May 2011, there was a Borough Council election and, in accordance with legislation, his term AS A COUNCILLOR ended on the fourth day after that Borough election. But he BECAME A COUNCILLOR AGAIN on that same day BECAUSE HE HAD BEEN RE-ELECTED BY VOTERS IN ANSDELL in the Borough elections of 6th May 2011.

The same legislation said his term of office AS LEADER ended on the day of the post-election Annual Meeting of the Council (i.e. 23 May 2012)

However, the other Councillors DID NOT RE-ELECT HIM AS LEADER at Fylde's Annual Meeting on 23 May 2012

There was no item on the agenda of that meeting to elect a Leader, so no-one was elected.

It follows that, after the last election, whilst David Eaves was elected a Councillor, he was not elected the Leader, and from 23 May 2011 Fylde has been running without a legitimate Leader

In December 2012, Fylde adopted new arrangements to elect a leader every four years.

Legislation allowing this to happen had been enacted earlier, and Fylde *could* have voted to adopt this method before 3 December 2102, but they had failed to do so.

Up to last Friday, Fylde's officers had been arguing that the change in legislation to a four year term meant that Fylde's Leader had been elected for four years in 2010.

It did not; and it could not, mean this.

Firstly the legislation was not retrospective, It applied only from the date it was enacted and that date was after Cllr Eaves' term as Leader had ended.

Secondly, because his previous term as Leader had ended (by law) on the day of the 23 May 2011 Annual Meeting, and no new Leader had been elected, the Council did not have a Leader in post when the revised legislation became active at Fylde on 3 December 2012, so it cannot possibly be applied to a leader who did not exist at the time and still does not exist today.

Fylde has also advanced the argument that, because no-one had complained before now, and everyone had accepted him as Leader since 2011, the legal niceties - in effect - don't really matter.

We say that simply illustrates the depths to which Fylde is prepared to sink to try and wheedle its way out of trouble and to hide its failings.

But then on Friday, we heard it had all changed.

Word broke that Fylde had admitted its failings, that David Eaves had accepted that the councillors elected with him in 2011 ought to have had the opportunity to vote him in as Leader, and Fylde was trying to get an urgent item on its Council meeting agenda for Monday evening to elect him as Leader.

This all had to be done at breakneck speed because it is unlawful to put items on a Council agenda without making them known in advance (so people can object to them or speak to their councillor about them and so on) and the date for adding them was already well past.

However, in their dire straights, Fylde resurrected an obscure law that allows them to add it to the agenda if they are not complying with the law and need to change something as a matter of urgency.

We have no problem with that in principle.

We understand approaches were made to group leaders by telephone on Friday afternoon asking them to support an urgent item on the agenda to regularise the position.

Needless to say, agreement was freely given and, with unanimity of view, the Mayor acceded to an item being added to the agenda for Monday.

When the agenda was circulated by email at ten past five on Friday afternoon it was headed "Full Council Exceptional Urgent Item"

It was so urgent that the Chief Executive had to ask councillors living near one of their number who does not have email to print a copy off and drop it off at his house over the weekend!

And even today (Sunday) before the meeting on Monday, the urgent item is not on the council's website. (but you can follow this link to download the report)

What you see here Dear Reader, is blind panic in the face of a collapsing case.

But the biggest shock for us was the content of the report.

Its summary says: "The report outlines the Leaderís intent to hold a vote to confirm the Executive Leader of the Council although this it is [sic] the advice of the Councilís solicitor this is not required until May 2014."

And the report's recommendations are "That the council votes to confirm Councillor David Eaves, as Executive Leader of the Council, and for the avoidance of doubt, that previous decisions of the Leader, or those acting under powers delegated by his office since May 23rd 2011, be endorsed."

The report itself is short, it says

"1. Information recently presented to the Council has claimed that the position of the leader of the council has not been formally endorsed in accordance with applicable legislation. A number of elected members of the council have expressed concern that this might be the case.

2. The Councilís Solicitor advises that despite an administrative failure, there is no material doubt that Councillor David Eaves was properly elected as Executive Leader of the council and continues to hold that position until May 2014 when the four year tenure expires.

3. Notwithstanding the legal position that confirms the status of the Leader until May 2014, Councillor Eaves has expressed a wish that the Council should have the opportunity to vote and confirm the position of Leader in order to remove any residual uncertainty that members may have."

Have they learned nothing?

They are still trying to pretend nothing has happened!

What an absolute shambles this obfuscating, incompetent and disingenuous administration is.

The sooner it is changed the better.

The claim being made in the report is that there is really no need to do anything about it, but it would be 'a good thing' if Councillors who have not yet voted Cllr Eaves in as Leader could have the chance to do so - just so they can "remove any residual uncertainty"

And to do this, they are having to use an " Exceptional Urgent Item" called without proper notice, at a meeting arranged after hours on a Friday afternoon, of which not all the Councillors could be sure of being informed.

Now: they can't have it both ways can they?

If it's not really urgent and not very important, and they're not currently acting (what's known in Council-speak as) 'Ultra Vires' - (literally outside the law), then it is not lawful to use emergency powers to add it to an agenda without the proper notice - because those powers are only available in extremis when legislation is not being complied with.

But if, on the other hand, if the matter is so urgent that it has to be done immediately, then they can't reasonably claim what they're doing at the present time is lawful and proper.

But that's what they would have us to believe.

The recommendation that Princess Karen is due to make is interesting too.

The first part seeks to 'confirm' David Eaves as Leader.

We do not believe they can do this because he is not currently the leader. We believe they need to vote him in as Leader on Monday, not confirm him.

The metadata of the report gives a better clue as to the real reason. The author wrote it in MS word and named the source document 'Leader Vote Report' - (not Leader *Confirmation* Report).

The second part of the recommendation asks the Council to "endorse" the previous decisions of the Leader, "or those acting under powers delegated by his office since May 23rd 2011."

This is fascinating step and carries with it a huge risk for Councillors that vote in support of it.

Firstly, the Full Council is prevented by law from taking the day-to-day decisions that are the responsibility of the Leader and Cabinet. But they are here being asked to 'endorse' decisions that the Cabinet cannot have made.

Under the Leader and Cabinet system, the Council itself is legally prevented from taking these day-to day decisions and, because only the Leader can appoint the Cabinet, (and Fylde has had no Leader since May 2011), it cannot have had a legitimate Cabinet to make legitimate decisions.

So it looks as though the officers are trying to fudge the matter by suggesting that if the Council 'endorse' the decisions that the non-Leader and Non-Cabinet has made, all will be OK.

So far as we can tell, the recommendations on this matter are from the Council's officers. They do not appear to have been, and certainly they have not said they are, relying upon Counsel's Opinion for their recommendations in this matter.

We're uncomfortable with that because this second part of the recommendation carries significant financial responsibility with it.

Without this vote it is just possible that someone could challenge the validity of a decision made by the Leader or by the Cabinet he appointed when he had no legal power to do so. That might be a supplier, a contractor, a disaffected and disadvantaged tenant or a taxpayer. A taxpayer might, for example, challenge the Special Responsibility payments made to the non-existent Leader and his non-existent Cabinet members from 22 May 11 to today.

Those special allowances alone could add up to around £55,000, and we see a real prospect of their having to be repaid to the Council.

But anyone voting for this resolution (which effectively seeks to backdate some vestige of authority for a period when there was no legitimate Leader in place) without being SURE the recommendation they are supporting is lawful, will put themselves at serious risk if a future challenge *is* mounted (by a supplier of goods or services, a member of the public, or even the Council's own Auditors) after their decision.

We most certainly would not want our name attached to such a decision, and would not be prepared to vote in support of this resolution as it stands.

If we were a councillor, then before supporting this recommendation we would be demanding a barrister's opinion be obtained and circulated to all Councillors before they vote on the matter - so they can all be as sure as possible that what is being recommended is lawful and proper (or not) as the case may be.

We would want a barrister's opinion anyway, but in this case we are doubly sure one is needed.

That's because the officers recommending this course of action are the same ones that have already said everything was all fine and dandy - when clearly - as the emergency item shows - it was not.

Postscript:
We said in 'Illegitimate?' this had all come about because Cllr David Eaves had sent out flyers against the petition that the Fylde Civic Awareness Group is organising to ask people if they support a change in the way Fylde Council is run.

Those flyers claimed to be from the Leader of the Council, and some had photographs of the Town Hall on them.

The Chief Executive said the flyers were nothing to do with the Council and had not been approved, discussed or brought to the attention of officers.

David Eaves admitted they were a personal statement from him, and nothing to do with the Council.

This highly unusual situation triggered a closer look at the issue of how legitimate it is for a Leader of the Council to appear to speak for other members of the Council when he does not have the authority to do so

And what emerged was the shocking fact that, apart from the flyers appearing to be from the Leader of the Council when they had nothing to do with the Council, the claim that they are from the Leader was also inaccurate - because the Council had no leader.

If you think Fylde Council is ready for a change in the way it is run, follow this link to download a petition form and add your name to the clamour that is calling for change.

Dated:    24 March 2013


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