Listen above to the mayor’s statement on councillors’ behaviour, election of chairman and the resulting arguments
THE Mayor of Lyme Regis and three other town councillors this week walked out of one of the most explosive public meetings seen in recent years.
Mayor Brian Larcombe and Cllrs John Broom, Belinda Bawden and Stan Williams all walked out of Wednesday night’s Strategy & Finance Committee meeting – the first eight minutes of which descended into a heated row between several elected members.
The four have cited different reasons for walking out, but it followed what has been described as “intolerable” behaviour and the election of Cllr Michaela Ellis as new chairman of the committee, taking over from the mayor.
The walk-out follows weeks of increasing tension in the council chamber, with the mayor having recently made a statement saying he will no longer tolerate disrespectful behaviour between members at meetings.
His message came after a public spat with new councillor Tara Webb, who openly called the mayor “a joke”.
The mayor initially made the statement at a Tourism, Community & Publicity Committee meeting but several members were absent so he repeated it at the start of Wednesday’s Strategy & Finance, where all councillors were present.
His statement can be read in full here.
After repeating his statement on Wednesday, Cllr Cheryl Reynolds replied: “I do find it completely offensive that you’ve tarred everybody with the same brush. I find that totally offensive and I shall not be listening to anything you’ve just said because I think it’s unfair and completely out of order.”
In response, the mayor pointed out that Cllr Reynolds was the person who had asked him to repeat his statement when all councillors were present, after he first read it at the recent Tourism, Community & Publicity Committee meeting.
She replied: “I wanted to see if you were plying it to every single one of us and you obviously are and I find that very offensive.”
Cllr Larcombe said his statement did use the word “some” and did not refer to all.
Cllr Reynolds replied: “Sorry but I don’t like it.”
The meeting then moved to the election of chairman of the Strategy & Finance Committee, with both existing chairman Cllr Larcombe and Cllr Michaela Ellis nominated.
Cllr Ellis won the vote seven to six with Cllr Larcombe choosing not to use his casting vote as mayor to give himself the position*.
Cllr John Broom then announced he was leaving the meeting.
When asked why he said it was because Cllr Ellis was one of two members who voted in favour of the council taking a £600,000 loan last year when they had been discussing how to recover its finances after the first national lockdown.
The majority voted against this and the council did not take out a loan.
Members then started shouting over one another, with Cllr Ellis attempting to respond and Cllr Reynolds saying she had told Cllr Larcombe weeks ago that she would only vote to re-elect him as mayor if he did not stand for any committee chairmanships.
Cllr Stan Williams urged the mayor to stop the arguing.
Cllr Ellis said she would always support the decisions of the council even if they didn’t go her way and she accepted that the suggestion of a loan had been turned down, adding: “I really don’t understand why you need to leave.”
Cllr Broom replied: “Because I cannot see how you can be chair of finance when you do things like that, I’m sorry, goodbye, I shan’t be attending the meeting.”
As he left the room he said “I’m doing a Richard Doney on it”, implying that Cllr Richard Doney did not regularly attend meetings.
“Oh that is disrespectful after what the mayor has just said,” Cllr Ellis argued.
Cllr Larcombe pointed out to other members that he did not use his casting vote to elect himself as chairman.
One member of the council muttered “good”, to which Cllr Larcombe looked up and Cllr Tara Webb said: “I didn’t say that, don’t you dare look at me.”
Cllr Webb added that she did not agree that the mayor should be given a casting vote.
“That is the rules,” replied the mayor.
Cllr Webb retorted: “I know that’s the rules but I don’t agree with the rules and I’d like to know how we go about changing them?”
Cllr Larcombe said he was “naturally disappointed” not to be elected chairman as he felt the council could not have an effective mayor without them also being chairman of Strategy & Finance as the two positions were “intertwined”.
“I feel now that I’m impeded,” he said.
Councillors started shouting over one another again, with Cllr Ellis saying she took disrespect from Cllr Larcombe’s comments as she had not been chair of Strategy & Finance when she served as mayor.
Cllr Belinda Bawden then announced she was leaving the meeting, followed by Cllr Larcombe and Cllr Stan Williams.
Cllr Ellis said: “If this is going to cause problems I will stand down.”
Cllr Webb replied: “It’s been voted on, that’s not right. Is it right? I don’t know. Hell no.”
She then shouted “goodbye” as Cllrs Larcombe, Bawden and Williams left the meeting.
Cllr Ellis then took the chair, adding that members would have to take another vote if they wanted her to stand down.
“I don’t like doing things when it’s this controversial and I take on board Brian’s point that a mayor cannot be effective without being chair of Strategy & Finance,” she commented.
Cllr Webb interjected: “I’m not sure he can be effective when he’s left the meeting, Michaela.”
Cllr Ellis continued: “But I did not chair Strategy & Finance when I was mayor; I did not chair any committee meetings.”
Cllr Reynolds said that no mayor had chaired Strategy & Finance before Cllr Larcombe.
The remaining members eventually continued with the business of the meeting.
Speaking to LymeOnline after the meeting, Cllr Larcombe said he had left the meeting due to the behaviour of some members and not to do so would have contradicted what he said in his statement.
Cllr Bawden, who previously said she felt “distressed, embarrassed and unsafe” at meetings, said she had also walked out due to the “intolerable” behaviour displayed by some councillors, adding: “I have made my position clear on this matter on multiple occasions and will not tolerate this rude and intimidating behaviour in council meetings.”
*Cllr Larcombe did not vote and did not use his casting vote as mayor to elect Cllr Ellis, as previously reported. We apologise for this error and any confusion caused.