Disputed elections are not just a recent American phenomena. Last night, the management of Deepings Youth Group (DYG) attracted criticism when two long-standing members of the youth club’s governing body were virtually defenestrated as power over the funds and activities of the organisation was further consolidated into the hands of a small cadre following a coup two years ago.
Members of the public were neither invited nor welcome at the Annual General Meeting which followed recent public controversy over the group’s funding.. This year, DYG will receive around £15,000 from the Parish and Town which represents about 80% of the group’s total income.
[Author’s note: I wouldn’t usually write about the internal machinations of a community group but the recent decision by Market Deeping Town Council to temporarily withhold grant funding from DYG demonstrated that people are particularly interested in how the youth club is managed].
The meeting was preceded by a kind of postal election in which each of the Trustees were given the opportunity to vote for (or against) each other. Anyone who achieved 50% of the votes was declared elected but those who failed to win the approval of their colleagues were unceremoniously removed from the Board. No votes were cast other than by the existing Trustees and there were no new nominees (other than those people co-opted by the Board since the previous meeting).
A few days prior to the meeting, Cllr Phil Dilks requested an up-to-date copy of the DYG constitution in order to ascertain whether the procedures for the AGM, including the election of Trustees, were being followed correctly. No copy was supplied to him. Nevertheless, it seems highly unlikely that the Youth Club was paying attention to its own rules because according to the Minutes of Market Deeping Town and Deeping St James Parish Councils, several were originally appointed directly by those Councils.
The meeting took place via Zoom yesterday evening and was Chaired by Jayne Reed who, at the beginning of the meeting immediately requested permission to vary the agenda which she had sent out the previous week. Miss Reed said she thought it was appropriate to bring forward the declaration of the results of the vote to the top of the agenda. She did not explain her reasons but the Committee agreed and the results were announced. The two Trustees who failed to gain 50% support were Parish Councillor Andrew Bowell (Ind) and Parish and District Councillor Phil Dilks (Ind). The Chair then asked them to leave the meeting and a few moments later they were disconnected by the meeting administrator.
Cllr Dilks had perhaps made himself unpopular with the rest of the board by stating publicly that he disassociated himself from the comments, social media posts and petitions which had been published when the October meeting of Market DeepingTown Council decided to postpone payment of a grant which had been earmarked for DYG.
At the time, the Council had a number of concerns about the financial stability of DYG and asked for clarification of some of figures which had been mentioned in the accounting statements provided by the group. Market Deeping Town Council’s representative on the DYG Trustees, Cllr Xan Collins (Con), chose not to answer any questions about the Youth Club at that meeting insisting that the Council had earmarked £7,000 for DYG and the group was therefore entitled to a grants for that amount. The decision to delay the second of two grant payments was voted on with the result 3 in favour, 3 against and 4 abstentions. The Deputy Mayor, Cllr Virginia Moran (Ind) used her casting vote to delay the payment.
After that decision, representatives of the DYG Board were invited to speak to the Mayor and Deputy Mayor at a meeting which held answer the questions but not before the Town Council, and Cllr Moran in particular, had been villified on social media.
Later that month, the DYG Trustees met, virtually, for the first time since Lockdown and Paul Hanson resigned as Chair. Mr Hanson had been elected as a Town Councillor in May 2019 but resigned unexpectedly in May 2020. He is the partner of a Conservative SKDC Councillor who is also a Trustee of DYG.
Jayne Reed stepped into the breach and took on the role of Chair. Miss Reed is also familiar with the role of a Town Councillor having been served on the Council on more than one occasion and having resigned in 2017 causing a by-election which was successfully contested by Cllr Moran.
At the November meeting of Market Deeping Town Council, the councillors voted on the DYG funding once again. This time there were 5votes in favour of awarding the grant, 1 against and 4 abstentions. One of the Councillors expressed the view that he had previously been in favour of awarding the grant but after seeing the vociferous social media attacks after the previous meeting he was now concerned about the suitability of the Trustees. This view resonated with the personal comments made by Cllr Dilks during the public open forum before the meeting,
At the time of the October meeting, at least one trustee accused Cllr Moran of holding a personal vendetta. It now seems that there is indeed a personal vendetta, but it is not the one we were warned about!
The reasons why Cllr Bowell was not re-elected are less obvious. Certainly, he is not hesitant to ask questions or express his opinions but surely those are good qualities for a Trustee? Until March this year, Cllr Bowell, a former bank manager, was the Treasurer of DYG but he resigned as Treasurer I think because of differences of opinion with the Chair at the time. Whatever the reasons for their removal from the Board, their early removal from the meeting meant that neither Cllr Dilks nor Cllr Bowell could ask questions about the Chair’s report to the AGM, nor the Treasurers report to the AGM, the first of which would likely be “Who is currently the Treasurer of DYG?”.
Miss Reed believes that the Trustees are not obliged to hold an AGM, let alone allow members of the public to attend. Consequently, when I asked if I could attend the virtual AGM I was told I could not and that only Trustees had been invited. Procedurally, there might not be an obligation to allow members of the public, funding bodies, local councillors like me, members of the press, parents of youth club users or even the many young people who allegedly use the service. The organisations that my teenage children are involved in are usually very keen to encourage parents and potential sponsors to get involved. Given all the recent public hoo-hah over the funding of the Youth Club you might have thought the Trustees would be only too keen to open the doors. You have to wonder why DYG are so reluctant to allow people to see what’s happening!
Footnote 1: As explained above, I wasn’t allowed to attend the DYG but I am confident that the information above is all factually correct. If anyone points out any mistakes; inaccuracies or even typos, I will be happy to edit accordingly.
Footnote 2: For avoidance of doubt: I am not criticising the Youth Club; not its staff members or the people who use the Youth Club; I have no problem with the aims and objectives of the DYG. If I have a criticism of DYG it is limited to the lack of transparency of its operations and the manner in which the AGM was conducted.