Published: 27/05/2013 16:55 - Updated: 27/05/2013 17:10

Forres Community Council confidence crisis

Written byGarry McCartney

A FORRES Community Councillor has resigned, stating that he is “fed-up of discussing the same issues” and getting nowhere at meetings.

Stewart Kennedy announced his decision after three terms (12 years) on the community council, two of which and most recently, were as treasurer.

He was asked to reconsider his decision and stay on until the end of the current term, by fellow community councillors, but told the ‘Gazette’ he had made his decision and was standing by it.

His departure reflects on the already dwindling numbers and attendance at the community council. Although five of the twelve members attend every month, another two have not attended a single meeting this year, while attendance of the other four has not been on a regular basis, due to work or ill health. The community council needs a quorum to vote, and Mr Kennedy’s departure does not affect this.

However, some of the other community councillors made their disgruntlement clear at last week’s meeting, and admitted that they may not stand for re-election themselves, and have even considered resigning.

“I hadn’t intended to leave that night, I was going to stay on until the end of term, but I was fed up and had been thinking of leaving for a while,” said Mr Kennedy. “I just sat there looking round and listening and I asked myself the same question I have asked myself at many community council meetings over the past few months: “Why am I here? What good is it doing?”

“Nobody listens,” he added. “Hardly any of the councillors come to meetings, neither do the public and Moray Council don’t listen. Plus we are still talking about the same things we were talking about when I first joined so I just thought - No, enough is enough.”

Mr Kennedy who runs his own business, has also found it increasingly difficult this year to attend the meetings, due to other commitments including his role as chair of hospital and community station, WAVE radio, which often comes to Forres and promotes local events.

“Stewart has fulfilled the treasurer’s role well but I’m glad that WAVE seems to be thriving and he genuinely wants to support and promote Forres and the area,” said member Lorna Creswell, who was the only Moray Councillor present at the meeting on Thursday, after the others tendered apologies.

She said that although Stewart is leaving the community council, he is still involved in the local community: “It would be good if he used WAVE as a promotional tool for Forres even more; as other projects take root such as the pipe band, conservation and business regeneration.”

She added: “He hasn’t managed to attend many meetings recently and only a handful attend regularly, but he often didn’t get a chance to speak even with his knowledge and experience.”

The resignation comes only a few months before the next community council elections, with this term due to come to an end in October.

Following constant disputes with Moray Council over issues such as common good land, some of the other Forres Community Council members have indicated that they are considering their future.

Vice Chair, Bob Hellyer, is the most outspoken community council member at meetings, often speaking about what he sees as financial mismanagement by Moray Council with regard to budget issues, and the Common Good Fund. Mr Hellyer’s questioning, with the backing of the other members, has even resulted in showdown meetings with local authority figures in recent years, but with little resolution, and often resulting in a stalemate situation with the local authority.

Most recently, he has asked the four Moray councillors to investigate the Common Good Fund, with annual accounts are due to be presented this week.

Mr Hellyer seemed on the verge of resignation at Thursday’s meeting. “I’m totally and utterly dispirited,” he said. “We may have to work on our code of conduct but we are being ignored left, right and centre. We are always lied to and I’m not going to be a community councillor for much longer because I’m p***** off with it.”

Another community councillor Eleanor Hayward who got up from her chair and walked across the meeting room to confront Councillor Creswell about an issue at last week’s meeting, has also had an ongoing dispute with Moray Councillor George Alexander, which resulted in a mediation meeting at council headquarters, which still hasn’t been resolved to her satisfaction.

At last week’s meeting, she talked of her own resignation after describing the Moray Council offices as something akin to “the Kremlin - full of departments of stealth and security”.

“In my eight years I’ve done my best and I do not expect to be spoken to by a certain Moray councillor like something you might find on the sole of your shoe,” she said. “I am going to reconsider re-standing at the next community council election.”

Councillor Alexander has not been present at the monthly Forres community council meetings since January this year, and answered some questions posed to him by the ‘Gazette’ over claims made by the community council.

“As to the statement that the Moray Council doesn’t take the Forres Community Council seriously, that is a very sweeping statement,” he said. “However, I will admit that I know of one individual in the Moray Council who finds it difficult to take some individual members of the Forres Community Council seriously.

“It is always sad to hear that a volunteer has decided to stop volunteering in a particular field but that is the nature of volunteering. I know that Stewart has done great work for Wave Radio in Moray and that work most certainly justifies our recognition of him as a positive contributor to his local community.

He added: “You say that Stewart is “fed up”, I know exactly how he feels. I have felt like that many times in my life and especially so in the last twelve months!”

The Community Council elections are scheduled for the autumn - Mr Alexander believes there is still a place for them working with the Moray Council.

“I can only see a place for community councils anywhere in the country if the members of the public put themselves up for election and if they come forward with a constructive approach to work with others for the good of their local community,” he said. “They depend on people, like Stewart Kennedy, who are willing to step up and do their bit for the benefit of others in our communities.”

Councillor Anne Skene was present at the first three Forres community meetings this year and also believes that they are important in presenting the views of the public to Moray Council.

“The Moray Council takes all the community councils seriously and there is definitely a place them in Moray,” she said. “By working together, a great deal can be achieved for individual communities.”

Anne’s colleague, councillor Aaron McLean has only been able to attend two community council meetings this year due to work and family commitments. He hopes he will continue seeing former community council treasurer Stewart Kennedy at community events.

“It’s a shame that community councillors have to resign because they feel they’re not getting anywhere with Moray Council,” he said. “Community Council does have a part to play in getting the views of the Forres community across by working with, and not against, Moray Council. Some in the

Community Council vice-chair Bob Hellyer is one of the most vocal members about what he sees as financial mismanagement by Moray Council.
Community Council vice-chair Bob Hellyer is one of the most vocal members about what he sees as financial mismanagement by Moray Council.

community council feel that Moray councillors don’t listen but I will continue to try and take their views forward whenever possible.”

During his interview with the ‘Gazette’, Mr Kennedy spoke of the good work the community council had done with groups such as Forres Groups Action, Forres in Bloom, the Falconer Museum and Forres Pipe Band over his tenure. However, he took a parting shot at Moray Council who he believes are ignoring the views of the people they are supposed to serve.

“Forres community council has to be taken seriously by the local authority and the national government as a statutory body,” he said. “Community councils do serve a valid purpose and if Moray Council took them seriously a lot more could be done for local people.

“The situation with Redco Milne is a perfect example of this,” he added. “We’ve been discussing it at the meetings since 2008, we’ve had referendums and the people said no but Moray Council wont listen and the issue just keeps coming back.”

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