Councillor resigns from ‘insular’ council after attacks over disability

By Carmelo Garcia   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Monday 2nd May 2022 7:00 am
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Eli Heathfield stood down from Newent Town Council last week

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A COUNCILLOR has resigned citing personal attacks against him, discriminatory comments about his disability and an overall negative culture within the council.

Former Conservative councillor Eli Heathfield resigned on April 6 after seven years on Newent Town Council.

He said in his resignation letter that the council seems to be deliberately driving toward a negative and untransparent culture and has become insular.

Mr Heathfield said it was with great sadness that he decided to stand down but the council has a default position of saying no to anything and everything’

He also said he has been admonished for doing his job in trying to help residents in the town.

He said: “I am resigning my membership of Newent Town Council. Here is a sample of examples, excluding personal attacks, including disability discriminatory comments, that led me to my decision:

“Cemetery issues and how insensitively they are handled, with the council seeming to have the default position of no to anything and everything.

“And how I have been admonished for doing my job by trying to help the residents over certain sensitive issues being called ‘a councillor who couldn’t wait to jump on the bandwagon!’

He also said his mother, who is his aide, was asked to sign a gagging order after being summoned to a meeting with the accusation she “knew things that were considered confidential, even though they were in the public domain”.

This demand was then retracted once she explained she would be happy to sign after it was looked over by a solicitor.

He added: “I feel there is a negative culture towards resident engagement, and it is very disappointing that engaging and answering residents in person or on social media is frowned upon.

“It is felt that everything should be referred to the clerk, which I believe is consciously distancing councillors from the people they are supposed to serve.

“I am deeply sorry to have let residents of the town down, by resigning, but I have spent seven years swimming against the current.

“Now my resignation has highlighted the problems within the council, I am hoping they will investigate and then take steps to reform both the practices and the culture.

“If this doesn’t happen, more people who care about the town need to stand in the next elections to ensure there is more choice to enable change, so the town can progress.”

He also criticised a lack of transparency at the council and how there are no reports from working groups or outside body reps.

“No notices and information and the minutes are as basic as basic can be, to be just within the legal requirement, which again distances interest and engagement with the public.

“All papers have now been removed from public viewing on the website, and committee minutes are no longer on the website.

“The council allowing the clerk to refuse to implement a resolution made by full council to have audio recordings available to the public; saying he will not be audio recording any meetings for he ‘considers his written minutes to be the true recording’ absolutely astonishing!”

A town council spokesperson said they were sad to receive Cllr Heathfield’s resignation and are investigating several of the issues he has raised.

They said: “Mr Eli Heathfield, after nearly seven years as a councillor for the north-east ward of Newent, resigned on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

“We were sad to receive his resignation and over his nearly 7 years as a councillor, he has contributed significantly to developments in Newent Town Council and within the local communities.

“Within his resignation letter there are several issues that have been raised, that we are investigating.”

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