Saturday, 28 November 2020

You betrayed us, Mr Mayor

THE Mayor of Henley has been accused of betrayal for defecting to the Conservatives

THE Mayor of Henley has been accused of betrayal for defecting to the Conservatives.

Martin Akehurst was attacked publicly by a former mayor for “jumping ship” by leaving Henley Residents’ Group and then switching to their rivals on the town council only weeks later.

The move by Councillor Akehurst and another former HRG councillor Dieter Hinke means the Conservatives have taken control of the council in the run-up to the elections in May.

Gill Dodds, the leader of HRG who was Mayor in 2008/9, spoke during the council’s meeting on Tuesday evening from the public gallery, which was packed with about 25 people.

She said: “You say in this week’s Henley Standard that it is not fair on the residents of Henley to do your own canvassing and leafleting for the May elections.

“I would say that what is not fair on the residents of Henley is what you have done in jumping ship and becoming a Conservative councillor.

“Those who canvassed and voted for you at the last election, including myself, did so because you were of the Henley Residents’ Group, a group of independents with no allegiance to a national political party and whose only purpose is to do good for the town of Henley.

“You now serve two masters — the Conservatives with their multiple agendas on the one hand and the people of Henley on the other.

“I canvassed for you as an HRG councillor on that basis. Mr Mayor, you should go around knocking on people’s doors at election time and not ask your Conservative colleagues to do that job for you.

“And when you knock on those doors, we are owed a better explanation for your actions than the one given in the Henley Standard. Could you do that when you canvas please because at the moment we feel betrayed?” After the meeting, the Mayor refused to respond, saying: “I don’t engage in mud-slinging — it’s not what I was elected for.”

Councillor Akehurst and Councillor Hinke, who is chairman of the council’s planning committee, were among five HRG councillors who quit the party in November, blaming “serious conflict” internally.

The other three were former mayors Jeni Wood, Pam Phillips and Elizabeth Hodgkin, who now sit as independents.

Councillor Akehurst, 67, of Two Tree Hill, Henley, told the Henley Standard last week that joining the Conservatives would allow him to concentrate on his last three months as Mayor.

He said: “I don’t want to spend the last few months of my mayorship doing my own canvassing and leafleting — that is not fair on the residents of Henley — and the Conservatives can help with that.

“It will mean that I can make better use of my time raising money and help with PR for charities and working on the Henley and Harpsden joint neighbourhood plan.”

Mrs Dodds’ comments came at the start of an ill-tempered meeting at which the Mayor had to remind both councillors and members of the public on several occasions that only one person should speak at a time.

Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith, chairman of Henley Conservatives, attempted to respond to Mrs Dodds’ comments during his report to the council.

But Councillor Ian Reissmann (HRG) said: “This isn’t a county council report.”

Later, Councillor Laila Meachin (HRG) complained about comments on her attendance record made by Councillor Wood.

She had already complained about not receiving Cllr Wood’s report on South Oxfordshire District Council in enough time for her to prepare for the meeting.

Cllr Wood said it was “rich” for someone who “hardly ever” attended meetings to “dare call me out when I go to every meeting, ex-officio and district council meetings as well”.

The Mayor called for order by banging his gavel, adding: “I will have one person speaking at a time and the person will be appropriate and courteous.”

Cllr Meachin continued: “What can I do to complain about Cllr Wood’s attitude and rude words towards me? It’s not acceptable.”

Town clerk Mike Kennedy said it was not “good practice” to send out reports on the day of meetings but sometimes circumstances meant this was unavoidable.

He said alleged breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct had to be dealt with by the district council’s monitoring officer and reminded members that he had already warned them to treat each other with respect and courtesy.

Cllr Meachin responded: “Can we still make sure the comments from Cllr Wood are recorded, so I can take that issue up?”

This was the latest in a series of clashes between councillors.

In one, the Mayor stormed out of a committee meeting in anger at being interrupted by Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak (HRG).

In another Cllr Akehurst was compared to Adolf Hitler by Councillor Kellie Hinton (HRG) for which she later apologised.

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