Town clerk dismayed at 'snub'

WHEN a loyal town council clerk turned up to say farewell after 15 years' service he was rewarded with a bottle of rum - and found the locks were being changed on his 16th Century office.

By Richard Smith

WHEN a loyal town council clerk turned up to say farewell after 15 years' service he was rewarded with a bottle of rum - and found the locks were being changed on his 16th Century office.

Andrew Harris joined Aldeburgh Town Council in 1991 as clerk and, according to the town's residents, he conducted himself with courtesy, dignity and distinction. His stint finished when councillors decided clerks should retire at 65 and he was unsuccessful when he re-applied for his job.

And when Mr Harris handed in his keys at lunchtime on his 65th birthday, he found that locksmiths were preparing to change the locks at the Moot Hall.

Mr Harris, of Church Lane, Aldringham, admitted yesterday that he was bitterly upset at the council's handling of his enforced retirement.

“To change the locks is a slur. That really hurt. That is not friendly - that basically tells us that they do not trust you,” he said.

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“In 15 years I have never received a bad report from the council's auditors or indeed any criticism from them after they undertook the extra intermediate audit the council was forced to undergo in August last year.

“I am hurt by the council's lack of courtesy. They are telling the people of Aldeburgh that the council wants to have quality parish status and that the council must be open. But when it comes to their own employee they have not been open with him.”

He added: “I have thoroughly enjoyed being clerk and I shall miss the people of Aldeburgh.”

Mr Harris was told last year that the council had decided, at a committee meeting held in private, the clerk should retire at 65. He applied for his job and he was one of six short-listed candidates interviewed in January.

But he was told on January 24 he had been unsuccessful - the job has been given to a young woman from Stowmarket - and his last day was Thursday. There is no clerk at the moment and the Moot Hall is only open one hour daily for the public.

A notice on the Moot Hall board states: “Aldeburgh Town Council would like to wish Mr Andrew Harris a long and happy retirement and thank him for his service over the last 15 years.”

Celia Leggett, deputy mayor, said yesterday the Moot Hall contained valuable items and it was standard practice to change the locks occasionally.

She said it would be wrong for anyone to connect the timing of the lock change with the departure of Mr Harris and the council had offered to give him a party but he had declined.

The council had decided last year to update the Standing Orders and, following other councils, they had included details on employment. “To some people this may look suspicious, but it was not at all and we told Andrew Harris to reapply,” she said.

John Digby, the mayor, said: “There is nothing against the last town clerk. He did not leave under a cloud. He left because he was 65.”

Clare Foss, a former town mayor, said of Mr Harris: “No effort was too much and the wellbeing of the town was foremost in all his dealings and work.

“Obviously from time to time things arose to which one did not agree but, with courteous debate and discussion, these were generally solved to everyone's satisfaction. I am ashamed that our present council should treat such loyalty with such disdain.”

Another Aldeburgh resident, who declined to be named, said: “Anything like this is devaluing the memories of those people who have been mayor. They do not want the running of the town council to deteriorate in such a way that it gets a bad name.”

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