Council fails to end long-running feud
ANGRY members of the public have vented their fury at the latest feud among Shaftesbury town councillors.
Councillors were barracked from the public gallery when they convened an extraordinary meeting last Thursday to discuss funding for the town's Barton Hill leisure complex.
FALSE DAWN: Hopes that a feud between Shafesbury town councillor Richard Thomas and mayor Lester Dibben had ended have been dashed, angering residents. Picture by James Dadzitis
Controversially added to the agenda was a motion proposed by Councillor Nigel Cook to "determine what action to take regarding the recent disrespectful comments made against the mayor and continued conduct contrary to the constitution and facilitated agreement".
Allegations have been levelled against Councillor Richard Thomas that he made derogatory comments about mayor Lester Dibben. It is a charge Mr Thomas strenuously denies.
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The dispute is the latest in a long-running saga of infighting among the town council that has cost north Dorset taxpayers around £14,000.
Around £10,000 was spent on legal fees by North Dorset District Council investigating complaints made to the standards board by Shaftesbury councillors in 2008/09. A further £4,000 was spent on last year's sessions with a professional mediator, according to Stuart Caundle, the council's solicitor.
After the mediation sessions, Mr Dibben pointed out in the Western Gazette that only one councillor was made to apologise. Townspeople at last week's meeting criticised Mr Dibben for his comments.
Resident Joe Hashman told the meeting: "I feel really embarrassed that this issue is still dragging the reputation of the town down. I don't think Mr Thomas is perfect but he is a free thinker and I think he is being bullied by individuals on this council.
"What I want to see is for all of you to get over this because we have got a fantastic town and you are bringing it into disrepute."
Mr Dibben maintains that his comment is backed up by official documents
He said: "I won't retract the statement because I believe it is true. I contacted Mr Thomas to talk about this and we have had two good conversations and that is what we agreed to do under the terms of the facilitated meetings. But Mr Thomas has not asked to meet with me."
Mr Thomas insists he was not compelled to apologise as the mayor has appeared to suggest but did so in the spirit of the agreement.
Speaking from the public gallery, Jonathan Elliot accused the mayor of being part of a faction.
He said: "You get Nigel Cook to put motions forward that you don't want to be seen putting forward yourself and then you get Tim Cook to back you up."
Mr Dibben refuted the allegation as "an outright lie" and denied that adding the motion to the extraordinary meeting was against the rules. He also rejected a call from Mr Thomas that it be removed from the agenda.
A suggestion from local democracy campaigner Pat Roberts that all 12 councillors resign was rejected.
Instead councillors expressed disappointment the conciliation process had been derailed and vowed to talk to each other more to resolve their disagreements privately.
Town clerk Nikki Merefield said that there are plans for a council workshop to discuss the issue.