Housing volunteers lose right to elect council board chair

VOLUNTEER council officials have been stripped of their right to lead a board that runs the rule over the region s publicly owned housing stock.

VOLUNTEER council officials have been stripped of their right to lead a board that runs the rule over the region's publicly owned housing stock.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) voted to change its constitution so it can appoint the chairman of the housing review board.

The move has taken the right away from civilian tenant leaseholder representatives, who make up the body with councillors.

Passionate tenant members pleaded against the move, branded it un-democratic and said the board will become the council's "nodding donkey" during heated talks last Wednesday.

Several councillors backed their pleas, accusing leaders making the move without public discussion and debate, and asked: "If it isn't broken why on earth fix it?"

EDDC chiefs argued a body with an input on how �15million of public money is spent should be led by an elected representative. The argument was branded a "fallacy" as the board has no decision making powers.

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Every tenant member of the board turned out for talks.

Outgoing chairman Ted Brown, a volunteer who, unlike a councillor, is not paid for his service, said the proposal lacked integrity and was an "insult."

He said the move was a bid to "achieve what cannot be gained through normal democratic processes."

"Dictatorship implemented," said tenant member Victor Kemp, "Where is the independence?" he asked.

"Angry and upset" Cllr Douglas Hull led calls to scrap the proposal.

"Appointing someone from the council would be a slap in the face to all those who believe in equal opportunities," he said, pleading: "Don't destroy something that is very good."

Cllr Roger Giles backed the sentiment and referred to the promised "new politics" of partnership working in the Cameron Clegg era.

Cllr Anne Liverton was "extremely saddened" and said: "Nobody is more dedicated to tenants' needs than (outgoing chair) Ted Brown.

"Marvellous tenants are being given the impression they are second class citizens."

Cllr Vivienne Ash told council chiefs: "shame on you."

"The real reason for this is control," she said. "In order to get your own way you are enforcing a change in rules. You will tow the party line and vote to make a disastrous change."

Trevor Cope branded the move "foolish". He told bosses they had "scant concern over the trust of people who put their time in for free."

Portfolio holder for communities Cllr Jill Elson said a �15million budget was at stake.

"The tenants have done excellent work," she said, "We (councillors) are accountable to the public, responsible for that amount of money and elected to do so.

Council leader Sara Randall Johnson was grateful to tenant members but said: "It is up to elected members to be handling the decision making process when we are talking about large sums of money."

A majority of councillors voted for the change. Conservative Pauline Stott was appointed chair.