A long-serving Labour councillor has been disqualified from her role at Thanet District Council for not attending in-person meetings over a six-month period, which she says is due to serious health concerns.
Liz Green had been on the district council for nearly 19 years, most recently as member for Ramsgate’s Nethercourt ward where she lives. She says that despite feeling unable to attend the council chamber in Margate due to Covid concerns, she had continued to attend virtual meetings and deal with residents’ enquiries as normal.
However, Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972 states that a member of a local authority loses office if they do not attend a meeting of council or committee that they are a member of at least once in any six-month period. The council can consider a reason for the failure to attend – and give the councillor an extension to the period of non-attendance before action is taken – but this must be before the six month period expires.
Liz, who has also previously served as a county councillor for Ramsgate, had been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable during the pandemic.
She said: “The council chamber is a cramped environment and at least one councillor believes that they caught Covid when attending a meeting there in the autumn.
“It has been a privilege to serve the people of Ramsgate over so many years and I am extremely disappointed by what has happened, but I haven’t neglected my duties. I simply had to exercise proper caution about my health.”
Liz was elected to represent Nethercourt in the 2019 election and would have been expected to carry out those duties until the next district election in 2023.
Labour group leader Cllr Rick Everitt said: “It seems ridiculous that a hardworking and experienced councillor has effectively been removed from the council for following the government’s own Covid guidelines, and the specific and personal medical advice she had received.
“Formal public meetings are important but only a small part of the work of any councillor and we have all had to adapt during Covid, but it seems the law has not.
“The council knew that Liz was classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. She attended in-person meetings when it was safe to do so last summer, but when the council moved them back into the council chamber and the Covid situation deteriorated again she took the view, based on medical advice, that the personal risk was too great. That’s what the guidance says she should do: exercise caution about being in crowded indoor spaces.
“This is not a case of an absentee councillor who has not been serving her residents, it’s quite the reverse. Indeed, the government refused to extend the previous Covid dispensation to allow councillors to hold formal meetings online after May 2021, which is what has created the problem.
“A by-election in these circumstances is a waste of public money. If that’s the law then the law is an ass.”
Nethercourt has two ward councillor seats at the district authority. Cllr Tony Ovenden is the remaining ward councillor. A by-election will need to be held to fill the vacant position.
A Thanet council spokesperson said: “The council stopped holding virtual meetings on 7 May 2021 when the legislation allowing virtual meetings expired. All council meetings after that date have been in person.
“A councillor must attend at least one meeting of which s/he is a member in a six month period, in accordance with section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972. Cllr Green is a member of full Council and a member of the Licensing Board. She last attended a Licensing Board meeting on 15 July 2021 and therefore the six month period without her attending any other meeting ended on 15 January 2022.
“If the council received a request for an extension during those six months it would have considered the reasons for her absence and any extension to the six month period. Unfortunately, the law does not allow retrospective approval of the reasons for absence and an extension of time.
“The council will declare the vacancy at a meeting planned to take place on Thursday 10 February.”