East Devon District Council (EDDC) shares a Chief Executive with South Somerset District Council. One man, Mark Williams, two important jobs. Or is it two jobs? No, Mark Williams is also, in his spare time the electoral Returning Officer for East Devon. So, it’s one man, three important jobs!
Zorro has turned his attention to Mark Williams because he is responsible, presumably in his spare time, for the smooth running of local and national elections within East Devon. East Devon’s electoral affairs were placed under scrutiny by a Parliamentary Select Committee last year. This was all to do with the fact that some 6,000 electors had fallen off of East Devon’s electoral roll.
Mark Williams was summoned to the Select Committee following a report by the Electoral Commission which identified EDDC as falling short of canvassing requirements to register households in person ahead of changes to the registration format in June last year.
As the East Devon Returning Officer he was responsible for how the local electoral activity was undertaken. This issue was covered by Pulmans View at the time -http://www.viewfrompublishing.co.uk/news_view/33945/20/1/district-councillor-asks-%E2%80%98why-weren%E2%80%99t-we.
Now Mark Williams, as Returning Officer, has hit the headlines again. And again, not for the right reasons. Postal voters in the EDDC elections have now been given the wrong advice about completing their ballot papers. So far it appears that information correcting this wrong advice has not been widely distributed amongst electors.
The local press have covered this latest embarrassing debacle:
Sidmouth Herald –http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/election/electors_sent_wrong_guidance_on_number_of_votes_to_cast_1_4050497
Express & Echo – http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Apology-issued-East-Devon-postal-voters-affected/story-26395839-detail/story.html
Pulmans View from Sidmouth (page 8) – http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/launch.aspx?pbid=b553c14a-f023-4ec6-a5ac-b9d745b0d550
This situation is very worrying as it isn’t the first time that a local election has had to be run. Zorro cannot understand how or why the advice to voters this time has been got wrong. Perhaps the Returning Officer has been distracted by having to also run two District Councils!
Mind you, EDDC has not exactly been a beacon of efficiency and hasn’t been without its controversies over recent years. The latest, and ones that will be at the forefront of electors’ minds on 7 May, will be the lack of a Local Plan (still) and the intention to sell the District Council’s headquarters and to relocate it over a split site.
Zorro has predicted that the new District Council will not be Conservative controlled on 8 May. That prediction, more than ever, stands.
It seems to Zorro that one of the first actions that the new Council leadership will need to do is to have Mark Williams in and to discuss what he sees his future being. Too many things in East Devon haven’t gone smoothly and without controversy be it in elections or just the running of the District Council.
Things need to change! In so many ways.