A LONG serving councillor has been booted off Saddleworth Parish Council for failing to obtain council approval for his absence for six months due to ill health.
Cllr Derek Heffernan, who remains a borough councillor, served the community for more than three decades and was Mayor of Oldham for 2017-18.
But the 78-year-old pensioner, whose wife Di, 82, has also suffered with health issues, has lost his place due to a breach of attendance rules.
Cllr Heffernan, who is currently waiting for a hip operation, said: “I had telephoned in with apologies and they were appearing in the minutes until October, but after that I didn’t realise that had stopped.
“I have still been doing things over the last few months for Saddleworth and Oldham and will continue to do so as a borough councillor.
“I only had one year left but it is disappointing to be removed.
“They couldn’t get rid of Cllr Mike Buckley but they have got rid of me.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Heffernan believed his verbal apology to the Parish Council’s clerk, Pam Bailey, last year covered his on-going absence.
But as no formal apology for absence was sent in writing and approved by the council, Cllr Heffernan has lost his seat representing the Springhead Higher ward.
The council’s standing orders state: “Councillors will lose their place on the Council if they do not attend at least one ordinary meeting of the Council throughout a period of six consecutive months from the date of their last attendance at a meeting, unless the absence was due to some reason approved by the Council in accordance with the 1972 Local Government Act.
“To receive approval of non-attendance, a Councillor must submit to the Clerk, or in their absence, the Chairman, a request for approval by the Council for their anticipated or previous non-attendance at ordinary meetings of the Council.
“The request must be made in writing or by e-mail. This will be included as a specific agenda item at the next ordinary meeting of the Council. Reasons will be considered for each individual Councillor in turn.
“The approval of the absence must be expressed by the Council, by resolution, before the expiry of the six month period: such approval cannot be given after that period has elapsed.”
The decision was announced at the Parish Council’s meeting in March and councillors paid tribute to Cllr Heffernan’s hard work for the community.
Cllr Alan Belmore said: “I want to pay tribute to Derek’s 31 years on the council to which he was a faithful servant.
“He has struggled with his health in the last few months but in his time on the Parish Council, Borough Council and as Mayor of Oldham his record of public service has been exemplary, sometimes to the detriment of his health.”
Cllr John Hudson added: “I think I have known Derek longer than anyone on this council and he has done a wonderful job over the years.
“It is a shame it has ended like this but it’s the rules and regulations.”
Cllr Brian Lord commented: “I am surprised somebody didn’t say to Derek the six months was coming up and why hadn’t he sent anything in writing.
“I understand he was under the impression that everybody knew he was ill and was going to be absent for a long time
“It is a pity to lose him as over the years he has done a lot of good work.”
And Cllr Pat Lord added: “I feel that with 31 years’ service to Saddleworth Parish Council and the whole of Saddleworth, plus the reasons for his absences which he explained were due to his own health and that of his wife’s, more consideration and sympathy could have been shown and taken into account.
“Sadly sticking rigidly to Standing Orders gives no allowance for the 31 years’ loyal service.”
But Cllr Nicola Kirkham, chair of the council, concluded: “Cllr Heffernan will be missed but the rules are the rules.”
The vacant seat in the Springhead Higher ward for Saddleworth Parish Council has been advertised locally and unless 10 voters in the ward demand a by-election, councillors will co-opt someone into the position.