Following the resignation of Janet Seaton as chair of Langport Town Council and as a councillor, quite a few residents have contacted us about the resignation letter. A number of snippets from the letter, taken out of context have appeared in various places and indeed we did the same ourselves a few days ago (we have now replaced that post).
We have now obtained a copy of the full text of the resignation letter and whilst we will not have room to reproduce it in full in the September edition of the Leveller, we thought residents of Langport might appreciate seeing the whole thing rather than carefully selected snippets:
TO: Councillors and Clerk, Langport Town Council
FROM: Councillor Janet Seaton, Chair
DATE: Wednesday 30th August 2017
A Council, especially a Town Council, which is closest to the community it represents and serves, is required by law to operate as a democratic collective body, with its Councillors abiding by clear principles of good conduct. As The Good Councillor’s Guide puts it, “the best councils will have a clerk and councillors who work as a team to provide a service to the community.”
A team can only be successful if there is trust between its members, where each can be sure that all will adhere to these principles of democracy and good conduct. Where that breaks down, by a Councillor breaching a democratically agreed confidentiality and seeking to subvert a valid collective decision, approved by a majority of members, the Council cannot fulfil its primary function of serving its community effectively. This applies equally to Town Trust business, where the Council itself, comprising all the Councillors collectively, is the Sole Trustee.
All councillors present at the meeting on 20 June unanimously decided that the Hanging Chapel issue on the agenda was one that should properly be discussed in confidence. This included the Councillor who later disclosed it. The tenancy of a Trust property is normally discussed in private, in accordance with standard local government practice on the exceptions to public access to meetings.
Other exemptions apply to similar confidential matters such as employee relations. It is fundamental to the proper conduct of council business that such matters can be discussed in confidence where necessary, and the decision to do so is not taken lightly.
It is wholly improper for any Councillor, especially one who actually voted for it and participated in the confidential discussion, to breach that confidentiality on the basis that they happen to disagree with what took place. Such action would undermine the proper conduct of business in any council, because it destroys the necessary trust and confidence other councillors may have in any future business.
There are proper ways in which any Councillor can ask the Council to change a policy or revisit a decision that it has already taken. A letter signed by 5 Councillors, for example, can force a Council to re-open any issue within 6 months of its resolution. This has been tried in this particular matter, but could not achieve the required number of signatures. For a Councillor to breach the confidentiality of an item is unacceptable in itself, and is a breach of the Code of Conduct which all Councillors sign on taking up office. To go further and to conduct an ‘extra-council’ campaign via the media, social media etc as a means of subverting that very confidentiality, undermines the democratic processes by which the Council functions. Any such Councillor would know that all other Councillors and officers would remain bound by their continuing obligations of confidentiality, and that any public meeting, such as last night’s parish meeting, designed to ignore or breach that very confidence, would put Councillor colleagues into an invidious position, and make any such discussion wholly one-sided, meaning that any decisions or votes at that meeting would be based on highly partial information.
Any Councillor who believes that they can pick and choose which rules and procedures – such as confidentiality – they need abide by; who manipulates democratic processes to further such breaches of proper conduct; who disrespects colleagues and forfeits their trust, makes the conduct of future Council business virtually impossible.
Langport has many sources of great strength and pride, from its heritage and history to its vibrant operation today as a hub for the wider local community. However, it also suffers from a number of crucial handicaps – the legacy of maintaining historic buildings and providing services without having the population base to raise a reasonable level of council tax; and the history of factionalism within the Council itself – which, if not addressed, could undermine Langport’s future.
It was solely to seek to assist in resolving these weaknesses that I joined the Council, which I have chaired since 2015. I am proud of the Council’s achievements during that time. These include the purchase of Cocklemoor; the development of a community website; projects to develop the river, to restore the Town Hall, and to improve the Christmas lights; the campaign to reduce the amount of HGV traffic through the town; the creation of a Tourism & Marketing Committee and the developing of close cooperative relationships with neighbouring Councils.
However, the future operation of this Council has been fatally undermined by the actions described above. I therefore, with immediate effect, resign as Chairman of Langport Town Council, and as a Councillor. By so doing swiftly, I hope the Council can move forward for the benefit of Langport and its people.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to the Town Clerk, whose knowledge, experience, professionalism and sense of humour have strengthened and modernised the Town Council and the Town Trust.