LITTLEHAMPTON’S mayor found herself at the centre of a war of words over ‘stay-away’ councillors this week.
Arun’s Lib Dem leader Francis Oppler has slammed two-time mayor Joyce Bowyer for moving away from her home in Rustington to Aldershot while still representing the area at both town and district council level.
Cllr Oppler – who last week defended one of his own party members for claiming council expenses in spite of holidaying in Florida for months at a time – said he felt councillors needed to at least live in the area they represented.
However, Cllr Bowyer argued that, in spite of living in another county, she could still serve the people of Littlehampton just as effectively.
She explained that she consistently made 80-mile round trips to attend council meetings and perform mayoral duties in the town.
‘Committed to town’
Cllr Bowyer said: “It is not about where you live, it’s about the commitment to the people you serve – that’s what’s important.
“I’m totally committed to supporting Littlehampton both as mayor and as an Arun councillor.
“I feel like I’m a scapegoat to divert attention away from that fact that a Lib Dem councillor swans off to Florida and still claims expenses.”
Cllr Bowyer said that she currently co-owns a home in Aldershot where she stays for some of the time.
She is in the process of selling the house and then intends to move to Basingstoke and resign as a councillor with both Littlehampton Town Council and Arun District Council.
However, she promised this would not be any time before November, explaining that this would save taxpayers a bill of about £8,000 with a costly by-election.
Pledge to stay
Cllr Bower said: “I made a pledge to Gill Brown (Arun’s council leader) that I would stay all of that final year.
“I would rather travel up and down than leave taxpayers with a bill for an expensive by-election.”
The revelations all stemmed from a question posed during public question time, at Arun’s last full council meeting earlier this month.
Arundel resident Robert Wheal asked Arun’s cabinet member for corporate governance, councillor Dudley Wensley, about whether or not it was ‘morally acceptable’ for councillors to be claiming expenses while taking prolonged periods of leave for several months at a time.
The question has since sparked controversy among Arun’s political parties with the Liberal Democrats claiming that the Conservatives have been ‘hypocritical’, with two Conservatives – including Cllr Bowyer – no longer living in their respective wards.
Cllr Oppler said that as well as Cllr Bowyer living away from the district, Arun’s former chairman, councillor Anne Smee, who represents Bersted, now lives in Devon.
Cllr Oppler said: “It is hypocritical of the Tories to criticise one of our councillors for taking an extended winter break, while two of their councillors have moved out of the Arun District to live in Devon and Basingstoke.
“There is a world of difference between taking a winter break for health reasons, and remaining a long distance councillor for one or two years as is the case here.
“Councillors need to reside in or close to their patch to properly engage with residents and with their concerns. They should not just be lobby fodder to turn up occasionally and vote as told by their group.”
Next year’s district and town council elections will be taking place in May.