Ten steps to becoming a good councillor

WITH recent shenanigans in the Guildhall turning Lyme Regis Town Council into a bit of a laughing stock, it makes you wonder whether anyone will want to seek election when the town goes to the polls next May.

Would-be mayor and social media aficionado Jeff Scowen is confident that a number of new candidates will be putting their name forward for the 14 seats.

At the last election only ten people put up for election and they had to co-op four members. Which means none of them had a public mandate.

I know of three existing councillors who are planning to step down, possibly before the election, because they are fed up with the current goings-on. Others I know stay away from attending some meetings because they can’t stand the bickering between some councillors. This is not the way to run a town.

I sincerely hope Jeff is right because somebody has to do the job and it can be very rewarding in terms of helping to shape the future of Lyme.

As a former councillor and mayor, and someone who has covered local government from the smallest Devon parish to Tower Hamlets Council in London when they elected their first BNP candidate, here are my ten tips for anyone who thinks they would like to offer their services for our town council.

  1. Be sure you have the time to do the job properly and can attend as many meetings as possible. It’s a big commitment with the current council meeting more than 60 times a year. I often wonder why a town of just 3,500 permanent inhabitants needs so hold so many meetings but Lyme, because of its popularity as a tourist attraction, punches much above its weight and generates the cash to involve themselves in numerous projects which would not be possible in other small towns.
  2. Do your homework. Find out exactly what the responsibilities the town council has. When things go wrong most people blame “the council” and the town authority often gets unfairly criticised for matters over which they have no control and which are the responsibility of other authorities. For new councillors training will be available after election. Remember the role is voluntary although limited expenses are offered to town councillors.
  3. Go along to a few council meetings before making up your mind to stand and see how the council operates. It may, of course, put you off but generally speaking much of the business is conducted in a friendly manner. Overall, they’re not a bad bunch.
  4. If you decide to stand, it is a must (although not obligatory) that you produce an election address and have it delivered to every accessible letterbox in town. That’s around 1,80o in number. At this level of local government, it’s rare that candidates knock-on doors to introduce themselves but if you decide to do so always be polite and refrain from getting into any doorstep arguments. In your election address, give brief details of your personal life and your interests and state why you have decided to offer yourself for election. Lyme Regis Town Council is non-political so don’t get into party politics. When there has been fierce competition for seats, some candidates produce a poster and/or take out an advertisement in a local newspaper.
  5. If you decided to stand it’s always advisable to show your face at the polling station to demonstrate your keeness to serve the community.
  6. If the election is held in conjunction with the new Dorset Council election, the count will almost certainly be in Dorchester, candidates will be able to attend this to be satisfied the process is fairly conducted and be in a position to demand a recount if required.
  7. If elected, it’s advisable to watch and learn at your first few meetings. I failed to do this (you won’t be surprised to learn) and regretted it because I offended some long-serving members who thought I was a bit too vocal. Nobody likes a know-all.
  8. Make sure you study all the paperwork produced by the office so that you are well informed about the matters under discussion. If you don’t understand it, ask the town clerk.
  9. In coming to a decision on how to vote on the matter under discussion, be your own man or woman. Don’t attached yourself to any clique and vote with your conscious on what you believe is the right decision for the town. I could quote many examples of councillors voting one way or another in opposition to someone they don’t like in the council chamber. Show your support for local events and attend Lyme’s civic ceremonies.
  10. Finally, show respect. Democracy is all about opinions and remember all your fellow councillors are entitled to theirs. They say politics is about the art of the impossible; that’s partly true in local government. You will not please everyone all the time so the ability to take on board differing views without taking offence is essential.

And can I lay to rest one persistent rumour. I am definitely not standing for election myself, despite being asked to by a number of people in recent weeks. The last thing Lyme Regis Town Council needs is another 70-year-old who thinks he knows it all!

I really do hope that some of you out there put your names forward and restore the council’s reputation. It’s what the town deserves.

Virgil Turner and John King putting up the trees in Broad Street

Up go the trees on most of the shops

CHRISTMAS officially gets underway in Lyme Regis tomorrow (Saturday) when the town’s festive illuminations (the best in the area?) will be turned on.

Virgil Turner and John King are pictured putting up the last of 69 Christmas trees above Broad Street shops, a herculean task and a few less than usual but still an impressive number.

Of course, it could be more if the national outlets supported the town that works so hard to attract visitors to Lyme to boost their profits, but the organisers gave up long ago expecting support from the high street giants. It’s good to see FatFace joining in the spirit but unfortunate other big names have not followed suit.

One national outlet ordered a tree last year but failed to pay for it – so what’s the point?

And a big shout out for the hotels, restaurants and pubs in the town who have made a big effort to make their premises as festive as possible.

For me the wheel has turned full circle

IT’S a matter of great mirth in some quarters in the town when I’m seen every other Friday delivering copies of LymeOnline.

When the comments are deliberately caustic, such as “how the mighty have fallen” I usually reply with “I started as a paper boy and it looks like I’m finishing as one as well”. And that’s true.

Just before I started work as a cub reporter on the Express & Echo in Exeter I used to deliver the Echo every evening to a number of homes in Lyme. In fact, for the first few weeks of my job I used to bring the papers back to Lyme and deliver them on the way home before we found a new paper boy (well, man actually, it was Ronnie Bastone).

We put out 4,000 copies of LymeOnline in Lyme, Uplyme and Charmouth. Two thousand two hundred of them are direct delivered to houses and the rest are bulk drops at various pick-up points around the town.

I have eight youngsters and a couple of adults who deliver the papers door-to-door and a number of volunteers who do likewise in their own streets (30 or so copies) because they are keen to get the paper.

I actually like doing the deliveries every other Friday. It takes around five hours and keeps me fit and helps keep my weight down, although when I first started it wiped me out completely for on the following Saturday. I also bump into a number of people whilst delivering who say how much they like the paper and that’s always good to hear.

The geography of Lyme means it’s not possible to get kids to deliver to some areas so we are still looking for people who would like to help out and deliver a few in their road. So if there’s anyone out there who lives in West Hill Road, Hill Rise, Portland Court, Timber Hill, Dragon’s Field and Garmans Field who would like to help out, please get in touch (07796 951 991).

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