Councillor loses his seat in dates mix-up

Councillor loses his seat in dates mix-up

A NEW councillor lost his seat on Mirfield Town Council in a legal mix-up – but could be back as a co-optee.

Michael Hutchinson did not attend a swearing-in ceremony at the council’s annual general meeting (AGM) on May 19.

He was in Canada at the time visiting his sister and terminally-ill brother-in-law.

The Labour candidate’s absence means he did not make his official declaration in time and therefore forfeited his Battyeford seat.

In a series of mix-ups, details about the AGM sent by the council clerk may have got lost in the post.

Experienced Mr Hutchinson is a former Mayor of Mirfield who also served on Kirklees Council and the former county council.

But having been elected on May 8 he travelled to Canada without checking the AGM date himself.

He believed the town council would contact him, which usually happens by email.

But in another mix-up officials did not have his email address, so they got a postal address from his nomination forms.

Even if it had been delivered it would have arrived after he went to Canada on May 10.

He said: “When I came back I expected there to be a letter behind the door, but there wasn’t.”

Mayor of Mirfield Coun Vivien Lees-Hamilton had no contact details for him or new Labour councillor Gary Bunton.

But she found Coun Bunton (Eastthorpe) on Facebook on May 9 and reminded him of the AGM and told him to pass the message on to Mr Hutchinson.

Whether Coun Bunton did that is not clear, though Mr Hutchinson insists he had no idea about date of the AGM.

In the meantime Mr Hutchinson did not call or email Coun Lees-Hamilton for help and said: “The thought didn’t occur to me.”

Instead he waited until May 31 to contact the council, only to be told the AGM had been held.

As a result Mr Hutchinson is barred from taking up his seat under electoral law.

A by-election could be held at a cost of about £5,000.  But if not the town council will look to co-opt a new councillor, which Mr Hutchinson can apply for.

 

Law bars late declaration

ELECTORAL law prevents Michael Hutchinson from taking his seat on Mirfield Town Council.

Members need to be sworn in before or at the first council meeting after an election.

The date of such a meeting is the final deadline for declarations. Electoral law states it can only be done at a later date “if the council, at that meeting so permit”.

Having not told the council he would be away, no vote was held on letting Mr Hutchinson be sworn after his return.

As a result it is now legally too late for Mr Hutchinson to become a Mirfield town councillor.

Mayor of Mirfield Coun Vivien Lees-Hamilton said: “We’ve not prevented him from being sworn in. He’s disbarred himself.

“I’m not without sympathy. If you have a relative who’s ill then the town council might not be your first priority.

“But Mr Hutchinson has served before and should know the drill.”

Mr Hutchinson is set to seek clarification at the next council meeting on Tuesday.

He said: “They should be allowed to use their discretion to allow me to make a belated declaration. If they don’t it violates the will of the electorate.”

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