Wednesday, 04 August 2021

Theatre trustees row

THE annual meeting of the Kenton Theatre in Henley was abandoned in chaos after a row

THE annual meeting of the Kenton Theatre in Henley was abandoned in chaos after a row broke out over the election of trustees.

Ed Simons, chairman of the board of trustees at the New Street venue, is now planning to seek legal advice.

About 40 members attended the meeting at the theatre on Tuesday night when up to four vacant positions on the board were due to be filled following a ballot among members.

Five people were standing, including Wendy Bowsher, the theatre manager, and Derek Gilbert, who were seeking re-election as both had finished their three-year term.

The others were newcomers Jerry Anderson, a member of Henley Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society, actress Grainne Harling, of the Henley Players, and Henley actress Charlotte Howard-Mather.

When it became apparent that the election was contested, Mr Anderson voluntarily withdrew and there were calls for the remaining four to be elected by a show of hands.

Mr Simons insisted that ballot slips should be completed and circulated them.

But, unlike in previous elections, when members would place a tick against their preferred candidates, the forms also allowed people to vote against candidates.

Several members objected, saying there had been no consultation on the change and demanded a vote on whether the election should proceed.

But Mr Simons refused, sparking a heated debate which eventually forced him to abandon the meeing.

Heather Simpkin, a former trustee who has directed for HAODS at the Kenton, said: “People were outraged at Mr Simons making an executive decision to change the procedure without the trustees’ knowledge.

“They asked whether it could go ahead without the ‘against’ column but he wouldn’t allow it. In the end it reached a position whereby no choice could be made.”

Ann Dayton, another former trustee who is director the Henley Drama Festival, said: “I am appalled and disgusted by what happened.

“When you vote in a general election you never vote against anyone — you choose who you like and leave the others blank. This idea was never written into the Kenton’s constitution.

“Many older members said it was deplorable and disgraceful and I would quite agree.”

Mr Anderson said: “I put myself forward as I felt my technical experience could be helpful. However, I felt Wendy and Derek were far more experienced and didn’t want to stand in their way.

“The debate got pretty heated and I agree that there shouldn’t have been an ‘against’ column.”

Mr Simons said: “It surely can’t be democratic to have a show of hands. That means a trustee can never be voted off as long as they’ve got a proposer and a seconder.

“I’m not casting doubt on any of the candidates but as a matter of principle you have to be certain you’re electing fit and proper individuals.

“The meeting got quite acrimonious and rather than letting it get out of hand I felt it was better to adjourn it and seek advice. I could have used my position to push it through but I didn’t feel that was right.

“It’s a shame because it should have been a hugely positive evening but members are members and everybody has the right to have their say.”

He said there was now likely to be a postal ballot.

Ms Harling said she couldn’t comment as she was not at the meeting. Ms Howard-Mather did not respond to requests for  comment.

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