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Town councillors have narrowly voted to postpone the Annual Council Meeting for a year because of the current Covid-19 emergency.

This means that Gillingham mayor Barry Von Clemens and deputy mayor Paul Harris will stay in office for an additional year, as the Annual Council Meeting is the meeting at which town councillors choose the new mayor.

However, the proposal to postpone the ACM until May 2021 under the terms of the Coronavirus Act 2020 only passed by the narrowest of margins, by 8 votes to 7, at an Extraordinary Full Council meeting held online on Thursday evening.

Backing the call to postpone the Annual Council Meeting – and thus the chance to vote for a new mayor – Councillor Val Pothecary told councillors on the Skype meeting that she believed that it was important to have ‘continuity’.

She said: ‘I feel in these really difficult times that continuity is absolutely everything and all I feel that we can offer our residents and the population at large.’

Mayor Gillingham
Gillingham mayor Barry Von Clemens, left, and deputy mayor Paul Harris, in 2019.

Referring to the usual custom in Gillingham of the deputy mayor being voted in as mayor each year, Councillor Pothecary said her views were in no one a personal slight against current deputy mayor Paul Harris for whom she said she had ‘huge respect’.

‘I think continuity is reassuring to our residents,’ she said simply.

However, Councillor Graham Poulter said holding the Annual Council Meeting would be a way of showing the town that the council was continuing its business as usual and doing it ‘effectively and democratically’.

Councillor Poulter pointed out that the town council was already successfully holding other meetings online. ‘I think it’s illogical to separate this meeting from all other meetings, I can find no justification for doing so,’ he said.

After councillors voted narrowly to postpone the annual meeting until 2021, they agreed that all agendas, minutes and background papers of other meetings that are held online should continue to be made public as usual.

They also voted to suspend the Annual Town Assembly – when the council sets out what it has done over the past 12 months – to May 2021.

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