Councillors at loggerheads over Lynda Needham alderman honour
PUBLISHED: 17:27 16 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 January 2020
A meeting to make a former councillor an alderman has been cancelled after it emerged that district councillors were prepared to sabotage the nomination.
Former North Herts District Council leader, Lynda Needham - who narrowly lost her Letchworth South West seat in last year's local elections - had been proposed as an alderman in recognition of her 27 years' service on the council.
An alderman is an honorary title bestowed on former councillors who are deemed to have made an outstanding contribution to the community.
In recent weeks however, some district councillors have made it clear they would vote against the motion to nominate Mrs Needham, forcing NHDC leader Martin Stears-Handscomb to postpone the meeting against his will.
Liberal Democrat councillor Sam Collins confirmed he "had planned to vote against the motion", and added that he believes "the whole alderman thing is a bit anachronistic".
Former Conservative councillor David Leal-Bennett called her nomination "appalling", and questioned why the council would seek to reward an "incompetent councillor who kept screwing things up".
Mr Leal-Bennett personally clashed with Mrs Needham during the Hitchin Town Hall and district museum debacle - and in 2016 was issued a formal censure after five breaches of the council's code of conduct were upheld, which included bring the authority into disrepute and bullying or harassing behaviour.
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NHDC Conservative leader David Levett has publically backed Mrs Needham and accused councillors of making a "political statement".
"The title of Alderman is a courtesy award given to those who have given outstanding service to the community," Cllr Levett said. "The amount of time Lynda has served as a councillor alone justifies this.
"She went well beyond what could be reasonably expected from a councillor. How many others, to give one example, would take phone calls on Christmas Day to sort out a problem presented.
"I think it's appalling that some elected members - some of whom only worked with Lynda on the council for a short while - base their comments on hearsay from someone with an axe to grind, and make disparaging and offensive remarks in the press and on social media to try to make a political statement."
NHDC leader Martin Stears-Handscomb has denied he was forced to cancel the meeting - scheduled to take place this evening (Thursday) - and said Mrs Needham was no longer being able to attend.
When asked if the meeting would be rearranged, he said there are "no discussions at the current time".
Cllr Stears-Handscomb added: "I have already expressed my appreciation to Lynda for her 30 years of service, as the council in general has done as well. My own personal view is that it would be a great shame if she is not recognised for her great service to the district."
Mrs Needham said: "I was delighted when the leader of the council notified me that I had been nominated as an alderman in recognition of my 27 years' service not only on the council, but across many other organisations that serve the community.
"I am disappointed to see that my nomination - which is a non-political, honorary decision - has been turned into a political football by some seeking to discredit me."