Newmarket town councillors accused of 'behaving like children' by town clerk Deborah Sarson
Newmarket’s controversial acting town council manager left the authority on Tuesday but not before she had delivered a blistering attack on councillors for what she called the ‘petty nitpicking and time wasting’ she believed was preventing the council from doing its job.
Deborah Sarson, who joined the council in November, had recently locked horns with former mayor Cllr Andy Drummond and Cllr Rachel Hood, who had been mayor for most of her time at the council, over the overtime payments of almost £4,000, she claimed during the coronavirus crisis and the appointment of the new town clerk.
Two lengthy complaints were lodged against those councillors by current mayor, Cllr Michael Jefferys, which included allegations of ‘abrasive and intimidating’ emails being sent. Cllr Drummond was later recommended by West Suffolk Council’s monitoring officer Leah Mickleborough to apologise for his emails but the complaint again Cllr Hood was dropped.
At last week's town council meeting, reports of investigations into those complaints and two against Cllr Chris O’Neill, one of which was upheld and one dismissed, were before councillors.
Cllr Drummond told members: “The root cause of my gripe with the acting town council manager stems from the fact that she reneged on the agreement she made in her email to all councillors on March 29 to reduce her hourly rate from £30 to £20 for those hours on the volunteer network helpline over the usual 25 hours per week.”
And the independent adjudicator of the complaint said it was ‘very unusual and indeed unwise’ for an employee to have the freedom to work and claim an unlimited number of hours without their employer having some control and agreeing a process by which such hours were agreed.
In response, Ms Sarson told members that back in February she had warned the council about its poor reputation, its lack of achievement and councillors’ political manoeurvring which was wasting staff time.
Trying to work with the council she said was ‘like walking through a minefield never knowing when the next bomb is going to go off’.
She went on: “This is not a game. The council is responsible for three quarters of a million pounds of annual expenditure of public money.
“Everything this council does should be for the benefit of the residents of Newmarket. Politics should not interfere with the decision-making of the town council; it’s not appropriate at the community level of local government.”
She told members that instead of trying to score political points against each other or individual councillors, they neededto be focusing on developing a clear plan for what the council could achieve and work together to deliver on it.
“This can’t be achieved while you’re all behaving like children in a playground. It’s time to draw a line under the issues of the last few months and move forward,” she said.
And she said she believed the issues the council faced were caused by a ‘small group of individuals’ who were so intent on their own agendas, they were prepared to do just about anything to achieve them.
“Because I stood up to these individuals, I have been bullied, publicly and privately vilified, both in the papers and on social media, had false accusations made about me, I’ve been libelled, suffered character defamation, been belittled and undermined at every opportunity and even written out of history,” she said.
She added she thought the council now had the opportunity to move forward under new leadership and with a new town clerk.Butshe warned: “It can only do that if those individual who seek to use their power to influence, control, manipulate and out-manoeuvre, are silenced and marginalised.”