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Wrexham councillors walk out of meeting after no-confidence vote row

Wrexham Guildhall (Pic: Google Maps)

THREE Wrexham councillors  walked out of a meeting after being refused the chance to hold a no-confidence vote.

Cllrs Trevor Bates (Ind), Becca Martin (Plaid) and Paul Roberts (Cons) dramatically left a meeting of Wrexham Council’s audit and governance committee held yesterday (Thursday, 21 March).

Cllr Trevor Bates (Pic: Wrexham Council)
Cllr Becca Martin at Nine Acre Field (Pic: Plaid Cymru)
Erddig Cllr Paul Roberts (Pic: Wrexham Council)

It came after they were told their attempt to put forward a motion of no confidence in committee chair Jerry O’Keeffe did not comply with the local authority’s constitution and could not be discussed.

Questions were raised over the suitability of Mr O’Keeffe, a lay member of the committee, to remain as chair due to an email he copied to Ceiriog Valley councillor Trevor Bates last month.

The email referred to Mr O’Keeffe being in contact with the police over an unspecified issue.

Wrexham Council’s Governance And Audit Chair Jerry O’Keeffe (Pic: Wrexham Council webcast)

Speaking at the start of the meeting, Cllr Bates: “I have circulated some emails and I mentioned that I wanted to possibly raise a motion of no confidence in yourself as chair.

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“But before I do, I think perhaps you might like to explain something about the email that you sent to me on the ninth of February.

“It’s caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety, not knowing how to deal with it for the best.

“I have circulated to all members of this committee, and I was just wondering if you wanted to make a statement on how that email came about or why you sent it to me?”

He then began to read out the contents of Mr O’Keeffe’s email, which said: ‘How does this email to the police read to you guys? It sounds promising, hence my reply to him aiming at teasing a more positive reply’.

The council’s legal officer intervened and said the meeting should move into a private session to discuss the matter.

Linda Roberts said: “It appears you want to raise matters that are in confidence, and I’m concerned that you’re trying to raise it in the public part of the meeting.

“If you want to discuss confidential items, I would advise members to consider whether we move into part two to discuss those rather than in public.”

Cllr Martin said the motion of no confidence had already been proposed and seconded via email and asked why it had not been included in the meeting’s agenda.

Ms Roberts said: “I did respond to Cllr Bates to explain there is no provision in our constitution to even request that in this type of meeting, unless you can refer me to something else in the constitution.”

Cllr Martin said she was concerned that attempts were being made to shut down any discussion of the issue.

Labour group leader Dana Davies took control of the meeting as vice-chair while Mr O’Keeffe’s suitability to continue in his role was discussed.

She said she believed the councillors behind the no-confidence vote had not followed the correct process.

She said: “The fact that you put it in an email to elected members, that’s not the process.

“I’m in a bit of an invidious position here because I’m trying to advise you as an elected member on process and we are being overseen by the Wales Audit Office.”

Cllr Dana Davies, leader of the Labour group on Wrexham Council (pic: Wrexham Council)

Cllr Bates said two attempts had been made to hold the vote, once at a recent full council meeting and at the audit meeting, but both were denied being included on the agenda by Ms Roberts.

In response, the legal officer said: “I’ve specifically advised Cllr Bates that there’s no procedure in the constitution for what he is attempting to do this morning.

“I’ve also met separately with Cllr Bates to explain the avenues that he can use so that has been explained to him already.”

Lay member Trevor Coxon, who served as the council’s legal officer before Ms Roberts, said the committee should continue with its normal business.

But council leader Mark Pritchard (Ind) said he felt concerns about Mr O’Keeffe should be heard.

Cllr Mark Pritchard (Pic: Wrexham Council)

Cllr Pritchard is one of three leading councillors who were recently investigated by North Wales Police over allegations of misconduct in public office, along with Plaid Cymru group leader Marc Jones and former Conservative leader Hugh Jones.

The probe is understood to have been linked to their failed bid to launch a judicial review in the council’s name to challenge the adoption of Wrexham’s controversial Local Development Plan.

It was revealed last week that the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to pursue criminal proceedings against the three councillors.

There was no mention during the meeting whether this was the investigation Mr O’Keeffe was referring to in his email.

However, Cllr Pritchard said: “What I would say is that I’m sure that members of this committee would like us to move on, but this is a serious issue.”

After being interrupted by Cllr Davies, he added: “You are trying to shut me down, chair.

“There was an investigation by North Wales Police which has been finalised and is in the public domain.”

Cllr Davies then asked the legal officer to step in, describing the situation as “unreal”.

Ms Roberts advised that the committee should continue with its business as normal.

It was at this point that Cllr Martin, who has been selected by Plaid Cymru as the party’s candidate for Wrexham at the next general election, announced she would be leaving the meeting.

She said: “I am just informing you that I will be leaving the meeting because I feel hypocritical when I have concerns that have not been addressed.

“They haven’t been addressed in the last month since I raised them, and they’re not being addressed here.

“I don’t feel that I can sit in a meeting where these concerns are being swept under the carpet.”

She was then followed by Cllr Bates and Cllr Roberts, who is the current leader of the Conservative group on the council.

Their actions were criticised by Cllr Davies, who said: “I’m really disappointed that you will not stay to carry out the important work of this committee.

“I think it’s obvious now that we’ve got members that are not committed to the work of the governance and audit committee, and I find it really disappointing.”

Cllr Beverley Parry-Jones asked if the meeting could be postponed “to minimise the risk to the council”.

Cllr Davies said this was not possible due to the large number of items on the agenda and the meeting continued without the three councillors.