Chairman hopes for calm after ‘dark cloud’ lifted from Hopton Parish Council
LOVED ones of a grandmother who claims she was bullied into resigning as parish council chairman have broken their silence on the episode.
Jean Canham, 52, tendered her letter of resignation to Hopton Parish Council in September 2011 and requested a standards board probe into the behaviour of four fellow councillors.
Her husband Julian says she “went to hell and back” after much-loved former chairman Mike Butcher died, and rows broke out at the council.
He alleges after she resigned her popular column about her garden and chickens in the Parish View magazine was axed - but new chairman Lennie Gent claims she stopped submitting articles to them.
Among the allegations put to the standards board were bullying, intimidation, harassment, failing to treat others with respect, bringing office or authority into disrepute and breach of confidentiality.
Following an eight-month investigation none of the allegations were upheld, and Mr Gent said: “It is a shame that a few seem to have a separate agenda, rather than trying to work in harmony for the good of Hopton.”
However the investigation noted on the balance of probability councillor Jay Formosa “was disrespectful as alleged”, but was no longer a parish councillor.
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Mrs Canham, who runs a property management business with her husband cannot speak out as she remains on the council and rules state only the chairman and clerk may speak to the press on any matter.
This is in the council’s standing orders for reasons of “continuity”.
But her husband said a climate of secrecy prevented her from doing her chairman’s role.
“When Jean joined the council her main purpose was to serve the village,” said Mr Canham, 51. “But everywhere she turned there was a blockage. It was a lot of concern and stress and it put our relationship under tension.
“When former chairman Mike Butcher died they were like a pack of wolves.”
Solicitor David Johnson prepared a report for the standards board hearing, which noted there seemed to be “a somewhat disproportionate concern on the part of the parish council with secrecy and confidentiality.”
Current chairman Mr Gent strongly denies this.
He said he had been involved with the council for 14 years and worked hard for villagers.
“We have worked as a team, with our clerk, to obtain the best services for all and this has been reflected in the recent May elections where seven of eight existing councillors were re-elected by residents,” said Mr Gent.
“It has been a very difficult eight months, with a cloud hanging over our heads. At last the outcome of the investigation has proved no wrongdoing on the part of the four councillors in question. It is hoped the parish council can move forward from this unpleasantness, in a cohesive and positive way.”
Nearly two dozen candidates stood in May’s parish elections, with a turnout of more than 4,000. No other parish in the borough had contested seats, and opponents say this demonstrates discontent in Hopton.