United Kingdom

Councillor, 91, is dismissed because he can’t use Zoom

Dennis Baxter, 91, who picks litter from a playing field near his home every day, is the longest-serving member of his parish council. But he was disqualified after national rules meant that, as he had not “attended” a meeting in six months, he could no longer serve. All council meetings have been on Zoom because of Covid restrictions.

Mr Baxter, from Strensall, North Yorks, said: “I haven’t got a computer. There’s a playing field here and I have been picking litter up every morning.” Chairman Tony Fisher said Strensall with Towthorpe Parish Council had no choice but to disqualify Mr Baxter under national rules.

Another councillor, Raymond Maher, has also been disqualified too because, although he does have a computer, he”doesn’t do Zoom”. Mr Fisher said: “We took advice from the Yorkshire Local Councils Association and the rules are quite clear.

“If a member doesn’t attend meetings for six months without a good reason, they must be disqualified.

“If we had not disqualified the two councillors, every decision the parish council then made that they participated in would have been unlawful.”

He said people could give their apologies and remain on parish councils, but not being able to attend because they could not use Zoom was not considered a sufficient reason.

He said it was “quite sad” as Mr Baxter had been a parish councillor for more than 50 years, but added: “We have no choice”.

Mr Fisher said when normal parish council meetings resume, perhaps in July, it would be open to members to co-opt the two councillors back.

Other councillors have been hit by the six-month rule where they had to attend meetings virtually.

A member of Craven District Council, North Yorks, was disqualified last year because he failed to attend a meeting for six months via video-conferencing, which sparked an angry backlash.

Earlier this year, a fiery exchange at Handforth Parish Council in Cheshire went viral when members were disqualified for not attending meetings.

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