Meeting cancelled after community council dispute

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A meeting called this week to discuss the future funding of Montrose’s Christmas lights was cancelled after a spat between the community council’s chairman and treasurer.

John Dempster resigned last week after eight years as treasurer when chairman Peter Davies accused him of acting with “no authority” in organising the public meeting.

Mr Dempster called the meeting, which should have gone ahead on Tuesday evening, to form a dedicated committee to take over fundraising for the lights’ installation and maintenance from Montrose Community Council.

He issued publicity material and booked Montrose Bowling Club as the venue, with the intention of gathering interested parties together to set up the fundraising group and appoint office-bearers.

Mr Dempster said he was instructed to do so at the last community council meeting but, in an e-mail to Mr Dempster last Tuesday, Mr Davies said he was “totally out of order” in taking action.

Mr Davies said: “You have no authority to proceed in this way. My understanding was you would report the subject of your discussions with the proposed new group back to the community council at our next meeting.

“After this consideration could be given as to the way we progress. I would draw your attention to the Scheme for the Establishment of Community Councils on public consultation.

“I would request this email is withdrawn immediately as you have no mandate from the community council to proceed in this manner.”

Mr Dempster responded to the message later that day with the short statement: “O.K. you fix it. Kindly accept my resignation from Montrose Community Council effect immediate.”

An extra meeting in Forfar between Montrose community councillors and local Angus councillors called for Wednesday night to decide a way forward, ahead of the group’s monthly meeting tonight (Thursday).

At the time of going to press, Mr Davies refused to make further comment until the matter had been discussed.

The community council had raised money for the lights over several years to supplement the budget set by Angus Council. The Christmas lighting budget for 2010/11 was set at £132,000 with the option for communities to access common good funding as well as carry on their own fundraising activities.

Montrose was allocated £13,255 for the financial year which included the lighting on the High Street between Swapp’s Close and Hume Street.

In a report to councillors last year, infrastructure services director Eric Lowson said that the community council could continue to provide sufficient funding to meet the costs of replacement equipment.

He said: “Given the undertaking from the community and the possible provision of supporting common good funds, the extent of the lights can continue, with renewals funded from the community.

“The funding requirement from the community would be £2755.”

The additional costs for erecting, dismantling, maintenance and electricity for last year’s display was around £3,000.

Mr Dempster this week maintained his position, claiming he believed he had acted correctly.

He said: “As far as I was concerned I had been told to go ahead and have a meeting so I called one and indicated that I was doing so as treasurer of the community council so there was no conflict of interest.

“The chairman said I had no authority so I cancelled it and resigned. Each member of the community council was asked if they wanted to continue fundraising and each one said no, which is why we were looking to set up a separate group.”

Mr Dempster is the second community council office bearer to resign since the new committee was established after last October’s elections. The secretary resigned in December and the role is currently being carried out by Mr Davies.