THERE was a heated debate as Saddleworth Parish Councillors clashed over co-opting two new members.
Robert Knotts and John Battye were eventually voted in following a highly charged discussion over the process for the appointments.
Two vacancies became available in January for the Springhead Higher Ward after the resignations of Duncan Goodman and Carl Roberts due to business and personal reasons.
In line with the 1972 Local Government Act, the vacancies were advertised publicly by Oldham Council but no demands for an election were received within 14 days.
So it fell to Saddleworth Parish Council to co-opt two new councillors at its February meeting.
The council’s standing orders state: “The council will continue the long-held tradition that the nomination shall be the prerogative of the remaining councillors in the same group as the member who had given cause for the casual vacancy.
“If the vacancy is from a person who is not a member of a political group the nomination will be determined by the Full Council.”
As Cllrs Goodman and Roberts were members of the Saddleworth First party, which no longer exists, the appointments were left to the council.
Lib Dems Cllrs Alan Belmore and Sam Al-Hamdani proposed a non-party political process open to individuals to put themselves forward, with each party not voting for their own party members.
But other councillors preferred to elect the next two people on the Springhead Higher Ward ballot paper from last May’s elections, which was former Oldham Council leader Mr Battye and former Parish Council chair Mr Knotts.
Cllr Belmore said: “Last time when we co-opted Sam on to the council he put a CV forward.
“We should open it up and publicly invite people from all parties or parts of the community to put forward an application.
“I am happy to say I would not vote to co-opt any Lib Dem – I just want an open process.
“It is the responsibility of the council to make sure we have the right due process and choose the right people.
“If Springhead Higher had wanted the next two on the ballot paper as councillors, they would have voted for them last time but they specifically chose to elect other people.”
Cllr Al-Hamdani added: “I was not the next person on the ballot paper when I was co-opted so it does not have to be that way.
“I would not have been elected but I have worked very hard for the Parish Council since so I think we need to give other people a chance to be co-opted.”
However, Cllr John Hudson commented: “I do not think it is for us to decide, it is for the public and they did that at the last election.
“If people were interested in taking on the role, they would have stood in the last election.”
Cllr Pam Byrne added: “It is a long-standing tradition that we follow the ballot paper for the ward so I believe the next two candidates should be given a chance.”
Cllr Neil Allsopp said: “People chose not to call a by-election. They have left it to us to make a decision and we have to do that and not wait any longer.
And Cllr George Hulme pointed out: “The Local Government Act says the decision should be made “as soon as practicable” so we should do that now.”
Councillors voted in favour (eight for, three against, four abstentions) of immediately electing councillors rather than opting to open up the process.
They then elected Mr Knotts (eight for, four against, three abstentions) and Mr Battye (eight four, five against, two abstentions).
After the vote, Cllr Belmore hit out at the Labour and Conservative councillors who he believes ‘stitched up’ the nomination to co-opt their own party members.
He said: “This Parish Council always says how proud it is that party politics plays no role.
“However, the moment they had a chance to prove that they just voted for their own party political appointments instead.”