Just the ticket for East Devon Aldermen
“Beautiful gesture” for the service of the aldermen
Former Distinguished Councilors should be able to keep their free parking, an East Devon District Council (EDDC) committee has concluded.
This is despite a controversial council decision to double its parking fees from April in all of its 21 beachfront car parks and by 50% in six of its other “prime location” car parks.
Honorary aldermen titles, awarded to former members in recognition of “distinguished service” to the council, come with the benefit of free parking in all EDDC car parks.
As part of discussions on how to update the internal rewards system, the Board Review Committee decided that the privilege should remain.
Speaking at the meeting, Conservative councilor Maddie Chapman (Exmouth Brixington) said: ‘I think car parking is fine. That’s the only benefit you get from working for years and years for your residents.
When discussing the idea of removing the privilege, Cllr Champman said: ‘It’s kind of mean isn’t it? Come on, they put a lot of service. I don’t think that’s asking a lot to be completely honest.
Councilor Mike Allen (Conservator, Honiton St. Michael’s) agreed: “I think it’s pretty petty not to recognize the right people. All organizations tend to do this and it’s a shame if we don’t. Long-time members should be considered.
Councilor Helen Parr (Conservator, Coly Valley) added: ‘I highly doubt they [free parking passes] costs a lot at this council and I think it’s just a nice gesture that they get this very little freedom to park.
“It’s not much and I think it should continue.”
Since July 2003, 30 Conservatives, eight Liberal Democrats and four Independent Councilors have been awarded the title of alderman.
A motion for a ‘grandfather clause’, allowing current aldermen to keep their parking passes but preventing new ones from receiving the privilege failed.
Councilor Olly Davey (Green Party, Exmouth Town), one of the members who supported the idea, said: ‘We may think we are doing a great service, but that’s not always the public perception of us. as advisers and I’ve heard a number of people when I knock on the door say to me instead ‘well, you’re all in it for yourselves’.
“A lot of people give good service and don’t expect any benefit at the end,” he concluded – and that people shouldn’t be encouraged to drive anyway.
The review committee discussed ideas on how to update the Alderman appointment. Its recommendations, including proposals to revise the name of the title based on gender, will again be discussed at a full council meeting and in a proposed new “aldermen’s task force”.
The upheaval comes after it was revealed former Conservative East Devon councilor and Mayor of Exmouth John Humphreys was given the title in December 2019 while under investigation police for sexually assaulting two boys between 1990 and 2001.
Mr Humphreys was arrested in 2015 and released on bail the following year for crimes for which he was eventually convicted and sentenced to 21 years in prison last August.
His arrest and subsequent release under investigation was first made public when he appeared at Exeter Magistrates Court in November 2020.
Ahead of the debate at the Oversight Committee, Councilor Tom Wright (Conservative, Budleigh and Raleigh) said former Cllr Humphreys had been “convicted of the most heinous crimes which have shocked and shamed us all”.
Council is considering what needs to be done to improve the process for electing aldermen. Some want the procedure updated to create more control and clarity. Others, including council leader Paul Arnott (Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley) want the title dropped altogether.
A report outlining the current process was sent to members by the Executive Director of the Board.
Councilor Paul Millar (Labour, Exmouth Halsdon) criticized the report saying: ‘We do not know which councilor appointed Mr Humphreys or whether any officer knew he faced serious questions and could have intervened to advise the candidates that the price was not appropriate while the investigation was ongoing.
“What this shows us is that the aldermen system has been abused by the Tories, handing out rewards like candy in a secret way, with no transparency or criteria beyond these vague provisions of the 1972 law.”
Conservative councilors disagreed and said the high number of appointed party members reflected the higher proportion of Conservative councilors elected to council over the years.
The Labor group wants to see the honors process ‘overhauled’ with a nominating committee offering greater scrutiny and transparency.
Cllr Millar added: “The role of honorary aldermen or aldermen is a unique award available to the hardest working, most prominent and most respected former Councillors.
“It should stay that way and rooted to ensure the highest standards of aldermen appointments.”
At a council meeting last December, a statement from one of Humphreys’ victims was read aloud by a Liberal Democrat adviser. In it, the victim asked why John Humphreys was allowed to remain a councilor for years after being investigated in 2016 and, in particular, why Mr Humphreys was given the honorary title of alderman in 2019.
He wrote: “I still think Humphreys was favored because of his connections, his apparent good character and his social position as an adviser.
“In my mind, he was a monster to me. He took my teenage years away from me and this entered into my adulthood. I should have retained that innocence – but that choice was taken away from me by this man.
“There are still so many questions that need to be answered. After the verdict, I was still ignored. I would like to be heard. It is important to me that the board hear me, hear my statement.
“What difference does it make, I don’t know. Maybe a few people will be setting there worried. It will be nice to be heard.