THE first meeting of the new Lyme Regis Town Council administration saw the election of a new mayor and deputy, as well as a shock resignation.
Cheryl Reynolds won 690 votes in the May 2 town council election – just one off coming top of the poll – but tonight (Wednesday), just two weeks later, she resigned with immediate effect after Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE was elected the new Mayor of Lyme Regis and Councillor Jeff Scowen his deputy.
Councillor Larcombe was elected mayor in a three-way race against Councillor Michaela Ellis, who has held the position for the past two years, and Councillor Scowen.
Several members questioned whether Councillor Ellis should have been allowed to stand for mayor again, as the council’s standing orders state that a councillor should only be mayor for two consecutive years unless no other candidate puts themselves forward.
Councillor Ellis said she had been asked by several members of the council and public to put herself forward, and the rule had been broken on several occasions before.
‘Council needs continuity’
Councillor Richard Doney, who had proposed Councillor Ellis, said he had done so because the council needed some “continuity” as it faced challenging times ahead with the formation of a new unitary authority replacing the former district and county councils.
He added that the Mayor of Lyme Regis needed to have credibility with the council’s staff, the public and neighbouring authorities.
A proposal to refuse Councillor Ellis’ nomination then failed, meaning standing orders were temporarily suspended to allow Councillor Ellis to stand.
In a two-round ballot vote, Councillor Scowen was knocked out in the first round, and Councillor Larcombe then won with eight votes against Councillor Ellis’ six.
Councillor Scowen and Mrs Reynolds then went head-to-head for the position of deputy mayor with Councillor Scowen winning the ballot eight votes to six.
Immediately afterwards, Mrs Reynolds announced her resignation from the council, saying she no longer felt able to serve with Councillors Larcombe and Scowen as their “only ambition is to wreck this council’s reputation”.
In her resignation statement, Mrs Reynolds made reference to a recent public falling out with her brothers – recently-elected Dorset councillor Daryl Turner and local fire chief Virgil Turner – which resulted in a formal complaint about her behaviour being made to West Dorset District Council’s monitoring officer, for which Councillors Larcombe and Scowen both also provided statements.
Mrs Reynolds – who at the time also served on West Dorset District Council – was found in breach of the council’s code of conduct on two counts – calling Councillor Larcombe a liar and using a racist term in a public meeting. She was found not in breach of five other accusations, including bullying Councillor Scowen.
Mrs Reynolds has since made a public apology.
A fierce election campaign then ensued as Mrs Reynolds stood against her brother, Conservative Daryl Turner, to represent Lyme Regis and Charmouth on the new Dorset Council as an independent.
Councillor Turner, Mrs Reynolds and Councillor Scowen have been the subject of several heated debates on social media in the run up to the local elections, and over the last two weeks as Lyme’s residents have speculated about who would be the next mayor.
‘Life has been made unbearable’
Her full statement at tonight’s meeting was as follows: “I say this with my heart in my hand, my life has been made unbearable in the last eight months by family members and certain people on this council and it still continues.
“I can no longer serve with people like Councillor Larcombe and Councillor Scowen whose only ambition is to wreck this council’s reputation, its officers and me at the town’s expense.
“I have given my all to the people of Lyme Regis who I love and respect but I am not prepared to do it any longer within this council.
“This council and Dorset Council’s social media policy needs to be changed; your Dorset councillor [Daryl Turner] that blocks people that are confrontational, and Councillor Scowen that continually posts nasty comments and allows others to do the same should be stopped.
“I leave this council in despair. Please accept my resignation now.”
As she left the council chamber, the newly-elected mayor, Councillor Larcombe, asked Mrs Reynolds and the public to only judge the new council on “what it does”.
Mrs Reynolds replied: “Goodbye, Mr Mayor. How terrible for this town.”
Councillor Larcombe then offered those mentioned in Mrs Reynolds’ statement the opportunity to respond.
Councillor Turner said he would not “lower himself” enough to give a response.
Councillor Scowen replied: “I refute completely and utterly Mrs Reynolds’ statements. I’d ask her to give proof and I remind people that it was her actions and her behaviour that caused her downfall, nobody else.
“I believe the new council, under the new mayor’s leadership and with my help, will be more engaging with the town, more transparent, and I welcome the start of a new era for both the council and the town.”
His comments received applause from the public gallery.
Councillor Ellis commented: “This matter has been dealt with through the right process and I don’t want it to be brought up again, and again, and again just because this has now happened.
“We are a new council and we need to be doing what we are here for, which is to work for the town and its people and not be bickering in this chamber. I cannot stand to see it.”
Tonight’s meeting was the first for six new members of the council.