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Apology issued over grieving Shropshire councillor's wrongful sacking

By Dominic Robertson | Shrewsbury | Politics | Published:

Shropshire Council has today apologised to a councillor mistakenly kicked off the authority for missing meetings while she nursed her dying daughter.

Council chief executive Clive Wright also revealed that Councillor Jane Mackenzie's removal was sparked by a complaint from another councillor, and that the authority had referred the matter to the Electoral Commission.

The reason for Councillor Mackenzie’s absence from meetings had been her taking time to care for her daughter Amy, who died in May at the age of 37.

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Councillor Mackenzie, who represents the Bayston Hill and Column ward, was reinstated to the council yesterday afternoon, less than 24 hours after she was removed.

She found out yesterday on Facebook that she was being removed from the authority after it posted a notice of a by-election in her ward.

The by-election had been triggered after the council deemed she had missed six months’ worth of meetings, breaking regulations.

But it has emerged that Councillor Mackenzie had attended a meeting during the past six months and she has now been reinstated.

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She said the matter had needlessly added to the stress she was already dealing with grieving for her daughter.

Jane Mackenzie with a treasured photo of her daughter Amy Jane

Councillor Mackenzie said that after seeing the Facebook post "I then went on the council website and found I had been removed, it was as if I had never been there”.

She said she contacted the council’s assistant chief executive, who told her she had been struck off for not attending meetings.

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“I said I would check what meetings I had attended, but she said she had already done that,” said Councillor Mackenzie.

“All of my diaries had been deleted from my iPad, so I couldn’t check. It was only when I remembered I had been to the football liaison committee, and was able to find the minutes in my emails.

“The mistake was on Shropshire Council’s part, and I had to prove my innocence.”

Councillor Mackenzie said she was informed she had been reinstated by email yesterday afternoon.

“I can’t understand how you would treat anybody like that, let alone someone who has been through what I have been through," she said.

Statement from Shropshire Council

Today, Clive Wright, Shropshire Council’s chief executive, said: “I am very pleased that Councillor Mackenzie is to continue as the Shropshire Council member for Bayston Hill.

"Our hearts have gone out to her, from both officers and members, following her recent and very sad bereavement. This has had a deep and completely understandable impact which we all want to accommodate.

“A complaint was received from an elected member and, under the law as set out in the Local Government Act, any councillor who fails to attend a council meeting for a period exceeding six consecutive months, without this absence being approved, ceases to be a member of the council.

"This is not a ‘council rule’ as some commentators have implied - it’s the law, with no discretion allowed on how it is to be applied. Permission cannot be sought or granted retrospectively.

“Councillor Mackenzie was contacted by me personally , by phone, in the first instance and a reasonable amount of time was given for her to provide details of any meeting she might have attended when she was representing the council over the last six months.

Impossible

"Unfortunately, no response was received in time to prevent the decision that Councillor Mackenzie was no longer a member of the council. This was despite me also contacting the Labour group leader and, as I understand it, his support being offered.

“Councillors do fantastic work and are involved in all sorts of meetings in their communities and so it’s impossible for officers to know about all of the meetings that a councillor attends.

"Sometimes councillors will attend several meetings in a single evening. This is why it is up to each councillor to be able to account for how they have met their obligation to attend meetings.

"Attending meetings is an important way of gaining understanding of and representing communities in our democracy. However, in this case officers did check all the records of our regular meetings such as full council, cabinet and scrutiny meetings but unfortunately no evidence could be found of Councillor Mackenzie attending one of these meetings in the last six months.

Experience

“Soon after the decision had to be taken, another councillor fortunately made us aware that Councillor Mackenzie had attended an external meeting representing the council. This is just the sort of meeting that we would not necessarily know about and we were really pleased to be able to take it into account, quickly reconsider and reinstate Councillor Mackenzie.

“The council will often reconsider when it is justified and possible and this is very positive. For example, recently, a number of key decisions on savings have been changed because of public opinion and this is all part of being open, transparent and listening to people.

“In this instance the law had to be followed through as would be expected of any council or public body. However, we have drawn this matter to the attention of the Electoral Commission and so we can only hope that our experience will enable learning and improvement nationally. They certainly were keen to know what had happened. This is how the law evolves, with the benefit of experience.

“I am sorry for any distress this has caused to Councillor Mackenzie or anyone else involved.”

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