Sad day for Stradbroke. Parish Clerk resigns. Stradbroke Monthly editors accuse councillors of bullying

UPDATED 10/5/2015 with sound and video clips

Tonight Stradbroke Parish Council hit a new low with both the resignation of the Parish Clerk and claims by the four magazine editors that they have experienced symptoms of bullying due to the behaviour of some councillors.

Carol Smy resigned as Clerk saying that she had hoped the election would draw a line under difficulties experienced during the past few years. However things appeared to have got worse. Carol was clear that no individual or group of individuals was the cause of her departure. She felt that all current and past councillors should reflect on their own behaviour.

This sentiment was then echoed by the Chair but the council quickly acted to appoint a group to appoint a new clerk consisting of predominantly long standing councillors who do not appear to have any concept that they could be part of the problem that the Clerk was referring to.

In an emotional speech the editors of the Stradbroke Monthly who described themselves as "four working mothers" accused a group of predominantly retired men of bullying behaviour and not treating them with respect. Describing themselves as damned if they do, damned if they don't the editors described how over the past twelve to eighteen months they had been put in an increasingly difficult position by councillors. Editor Helen Pleasance told councillors:
As a group we feel that allegations have been made and decisions have been made, and continue to be made, without any opportunity to defend ourselves. This is against all forms of natural justice and hurtful. For example an EGM was recently called about the magazine and we were not invited, not told the purpose of the meeting, asked to submit anything, or told what was going to be discussed.  
This has caused all of us sleepless nights, nausea and other common effects of being bullied and this fear of unjustified attack has been affecting us all for well over a year - a particular low point was when we were told by a group of councillors that we were going to have to sign a contract drawn up by them, and to make that “lawful” we would be offered ONE Penny consideration. What a way for those Councillors to show their appreciation of work we do.

The meeting saw a further debate about the magazine that went round on circles, got stuck again on issues of "ownership" and ended up setting up a small working group to attempt to agree a motion to be approved at the next meeting. Several councillors suggested some kind of independent organisation with Cllr Carrie Barnes suggesting a standalone group that handled its own money and gave the magazine complete independence.

The Council's repeated failure to come to agreement on the Stradbroke Monthly however is because it will not address the elephant in the room which is that a group of councillors turn up at meetings and sound very reasonable but between meetings their behaviour is anything but. This group repeatedly acted last night to block the glimmers of agreement that could be seen with the particularly strong performances of two new female councillors Ellie Wharton and Carrie Barnes. The discussion was quickly moved back to comfortable ground of ownership and an insistence that the Council must be in charge and any sensible discussion ended.

Even in the final decision to appoint a working group it was clear the Council still does not get it. As almost an afterthought they agreed that the working group members should consult with the magazine editors before the council decided. Hardly the collaborative working that the editors asked for in their presentation to the council.

Indeed once again the magazine editors had to sit clearly frustrated whilst councillors debated the magazine without asking for their input. They could have suspended the standing orders to allow them to speak and join in the debate but they chose not to and yet appear surprised that the issue keeps coming back. At one point the chairman asked magazine editor Marianne Pierce-Saunderson to nod so she could respond to his questions. A clear visual demonstration of a one way dialogue.

No councillors apologised for the coup that took place last month where they tried to replace the four editors with two former councillors instead some councillors added insult to injury by attempting to pretended that it hadn't really happened.

A bad tempered atmosphere pervaded the entire meeting with the Chairman, Stuart Gemmill at times struggling to keep order and shouting both at councillors and members of the public. Several members of the public clearly could not hear what councillors were saying but any that dared to ask them to speak up were told off for breaking the rules and speaking. The announcement to the meeting that I was recording it was met with the Chairman commenting if it is thought to be necessary.

But what really struck me after the meeting was an issue the council is going to have to address. During the course of that meeting five women - the four editors and the clerk - complained of bad behaviour inflicted on them by male councillors. The clerk even called it testosterone fuelled. This cannot go on.

Indeed the female councillors who sadly still only number four of the thirteen councillors gave the strongest and most reasoned performances last night looking for solutions not harking back to the past and refusing to move forward which sadly was the behaviour of several of the male councillors.

You can also read the live blog from the meeting last night.
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