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Sparks fly in heated Cookham Parish Council 'no confidence' motion discussion  

Tempers flared, voices were raised and impassioned speeches were made as Cookham Parish Council’s chairman avoided a vote of no confidence during a dramatic meeting last night.

Cllr Andrew Nye survived in his role as chairman after Cllrs MJ Saunders and Mike Barnes’ motion failed to gain support from any councillors, including themselves.

They had called for it after a meeting in December in which they became concerned that then-parish council clerk Mark Hollands had struggled to contact Cllr Nye outside of council meetings.

Cllr Nye has been absent from several meetings, which are held at the library in High Road, Cookham Rise, since he was attacked in November by teenagers on the London Undergound.

He suffered damage to his retina and required surgery and has been on leave from his day job while he recovers.

Cllr Barnes said: “During your unfortunate absence, and for a time after that, it was expressed to the council that they had great difficulty – the clerk, the office – had great difficulty in contacting you.

“That’s, I think, where this disconnect started. It is regrettable that it has ended up with a total disconnect between yourself and the office.

“It’s a moot point as to where a blame should be aimed, it’s just happened.”

He added that ‘I think it’s caused great difficulties to the working of the council’.

The concerns were voiced at a Staffing Committee meeting by the outgoing former clerk, Mark Hollands.

That was attended by councillors Barnes and Saunders, and Cllr Mandy Brar.

Speaking last night, Cllr Saunders said: “When the retiring clerk made the statements that he did, and are presented in the minutes, it was pretty clear to the members of the staffing committee that there were issues that needed to be followed up.”

He said the Staffing Committee chairman, Cllr Brar, the vice-chairman of the council, was asked to find out if Cllr Nye was ‘fully aware’ of the allegations, which some councillors believed represented a breakdown in the relationship between Cllr Nye and the clerk’s office, and stated that the committee was aware that Cllr Nye may consider resigning if so.

The committee also discussed how Cllr Nye could be encouraged to step down.

“Cllr Brar reported back from that meeting that the chair had no intent to do so,” Cllr Saunders said.

Cllr Janetta said she was aware of a disconnect ‘growing in intensity’ for about six months and Cllr Saunders added that Mr Hollands’ concerns reported at the staffing committee went back before the last month.

Cllr Nye said he emailed Mr Hollands after the attack to say ‘you probably won’t see me for quite a while’ and had been in regular contact with him, and responded to all of Mr Hollands’ calls.

Cllr Mandy Brar said: “If somebody is ill and not able to do what they are supposed to do, and they have been in touch with the office, I think this is ludicrous to even put the item on the agenda.”

Cllr Wernham said he understood the office found it ‘very hard’ to contact Cllr Nye during his absence and they ‘had no idea what was going on’, while he expressed sympathy for the injured chairman.

Cllr Nye said: “At no point throughout this whole thing did anybody, apart from Cllr Brar as vice-chair, approach me to ask what’s happening, what the situation is.”

He added: “I find it deeply frustrating, because we’re all colleagues on this council, and I find it disrespectful and unhelpful and honestly hurtful that nobody at any point directly approached me when they heard issues were happening and everybody has taken everything as gospel, that’s come out of the office.

“At no point did Cllr Barnes and Cllr Saunders approach me directly to raise their concerns.

“If somebody had done, I’d have done something about it.”

He listed grievances about his working relationship with Mr Hollands, including a claim that he struggled to add or change agendas ahead of meetings, and took issue with one of Mr Hollands’ reported problems – that councillors were cancelling meetings at the last minute – by adding that he and others have day jobs.

He said Mr Hollands had ‘made my life as chair intolerable the last few months’ and that he ‘had no support from the clerk’.

Speaking after the meetings, Mr Hollands told the Advertiser that ‘contact from Cllr Nye was sparse at times, which was why we were unaware anything was wrong following his assault and the two weeks of no contact that ensued’.

He added: “Contact was understandably limited following his assault, but the council would have been better able to function had he asked the vice-chairman, Cllr Brar, to stand in his place while he recovered. Regrettably, that didn't happen.

“The issue with agenda items stemmed from occasions when Cllr Nye asked for items to be added at short notice, rather than him providing the six clear days before meetings required by standing orders.

“This put unnecessary additional work on the office, which has only two part-time staff. If Cllrs believe that the standing orders are too restrictive, it is in their power to change them, it is the clerk's role to ensure that they are followed.”

During the meeting, when asked by Cllr Mary-Lou Kellaway if he could continue working with the assistant clerk, Jill Gavin, Cllr Nye insisted he could.

“All this going on today appals me,” Cllr Martin Coker said.

“I feel that the 12 or 13 of us here tonight are all guilty because when he (Nye) was so badly injured and taking time off, who stepped up?”

“I didn’t, I’m as guilty as the rest of you.”

When it came to finding a councillor that would back the motion, no councillor, including Cllrs Saunders and Barnes, having heard Cllr Nye’s responses to Mr Hollands’ concerns, decided to support it, and no vote took place.

The vote would not have been binding had it been successful.

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