Long-serving parish clerk resigns from council hit by flaring tensions

Jo Peters, parish clerk at Wickham Market Parish Council

Jo Peters, parish clerk at Wickham Market Parish Council, has confirmed she is resigning from her position - Credit: JO PETERS/ARCHANT

The parish clerk of a council struck by heated rows over village projects is resigning after 15 years serving communities.

Jo Peters, who is also the responsible finance officer for Wickham Market Parish Council (WMPC), confirmed on Monday that she is leaving the authority for a new role.

An extraordinary meeting was held behind closed doors last night where councillors were updated on “staffing and personnel” changes. Ms Peters is due to leave at the end of August.

Ivor French, parish council chairman, said: "Jo has served the parish of Wickham Market for many years, helping councillors past and present with her experience and expertise in local governance. 

"She has helped me enormously since I became a councillor and chairperson, we will miss her knowledge, work ethic and cheerfulness as will all who knew her in Wickham Market.

"On behalf of WMPC, we offer Jo all the best for the future in her new career."

Parish clerk Jo Peters

Parish clerk Jo Peters - Credit: Jo Peters

It follows escalating tensions at the authority, which is facing legal action from villagers over its decision to back a £1.5m revamp of The George pub.

At an explosive meeting in June, the authority faced heated public questions over its decision to approve the community and taxpayer-funded project, when four out of seven councillors voting owned shares but not enough to declare a pecuniary interest.

It came in a week that saw the ousting of a planning committee chairwoman, and the rescinding of an original vote to oppose the pub plans.

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At an earlier meeting on May 24, councillors with shares in The George had been unable to vote on or discuss the proposals, with remaining members voting to reject them.

Following guidance from advisory body the Suffolk Association of Local Councils (SALC), a special motion was passed to allow a second vote.

Ivor French, chairman of Wickham Market Parish Council

Ivor French, chairman of Wickham Market Parish Council - Credit: EAST SUFFOLK COUNCIL ZOOM

Mr French told the June meeting that some councillors had disclosed a pecuniary interest incorrectly in May and the original vote was declared void. 

“I wish to apologise for misinformation we were given along with the procedural errors that took place,” he said.

Councillors at the subsequent meeting ended up voting in favour of the bid - despite a long list of concerns - and it was green-lit by East Suffolk Council planners a few days later.

Led by Barnaby Rushton, a group of residents have requested an appeal and procedural review of the parish council’s decision on the grounds it was “flawed”.

WMPC bosses denied this when contacted, adding that “each councillor voted on what was in front of them”.

The George pub project will go before East Suffolk Council planners on Tuesday

East Suffolk planners approved plans to revamp Wickham Market's only pub, The George, which was hit by fire in 2013 - Credit: ARCHANT/PURCELL/JULIAN EVANS

It is not the first time tensions have flared at the authority.

As reported by this newspaper at the time, meetings were marred by rows in the summer of 2019, with a monitoring officer complaint response describing the council as being in a “state of some dysfunction with a rather toxic atmosphere”. 

In January 2020, the council joined SALC on the advice of ESC’s monitoring officer, a move they hoped would “enable it to function more efficiently and effectively while upholding the Nolan Principles of Public Life”.

In response, council chiefs added: "WMPC is a busy productive parish council and operates within all procedural and financial protocols as it sees fit. 

"It works closely with SALC and receives exemplary internal and external audits."

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