Two Shaftesbury organisations have called on a Shaftesbury Town councillor to resign. Shaftesbury Civic Society has endorsed Shaftesbury Chamber of Commerce’s petition calling for Cllr Karen Tippins to quit.
The petition was launched following Cllr Tippins’ verbal abuse of another councillor during the 14th April webcast of a Shaftesbury Town Council meeting. But Cllr Tippins’ supporters argue that she was democratically elected and the Chamber and SCS should not be involved.
Last week, nine of the twelve Shaftesbury Town councillors voted to temporarily increase the discretionary spending power of the town clerk to £20,000. The nine councillors who backed the proposal wanted the flexibility to respond rapidly to the coronavirus emergency. They intend to buy PPE kit for the town’s key care workers and hospital staff.
Cllrs Karen Tippins and Peter Yeo opposed this increased spending authority. Another councillor became confused by the voting procedure and abstained.
Cllr Tippins argued that the purchase would undermine the government’s central purchasing efforts. She challenged Cllr Julian Prichard’s authority to request PPE for use by the NHS. Julian, who holds the voluntary position of chairman of the Friends of Westminster Memorial Hospital, has since resigned from Shaftesbury Town Council.
In a statement, he wrote, “It is with great sadness that I resigned as a member of Shaftesbury Town Council because I felt I was being actively misrepresented by another councillor. I felt my duty was first and foremost to protect the Friends of Westminster Memorial Hospital, a local charity run solely by volunteers that I chair and feel passionate about.”
The Chamber of Commerce say they have made the extraordinary decision to call for Cllr Tippins’ resignation because they are unhappy with her public behaviour. The Chamber’s online statement refers to Karen Tippins’, “long litany of abusive, bullying, obstructive behaviour, damaging to the good name of our town and the mental wellbeing of Council staff.”
During last Tuesday’s meeting, Cllr Tippins confronted Cllr Matthew Welch, repeatedly calling him ‘an idiot’ and ‘thick’. Chamber chairman Virginia Edwyn Jones writes, “No one should go to work knowing that they will be bullied and no one should volunteer their time for the benefit of their community, to then be abused or to have false and hateful accusations thrown at them via social media.” Mrs Edwyn Jones adds that, “We should always call out bullying and harassment whenever we are aware of it.”
Jackie Upton King, chairman of Shaftesbury Civic Society, takes a similar view, writing, “This was not an isolated incident and such outbursts and disrespect cannot be allowed to continue. We have no confidence in any councillor who behaves in this fashion.”
Several Shaftesbury residents have commented on the Chamber’s and The Maltings’ Facebook pages. The majority of comments voice concern at Cllr Tippins’ tone and behaviour during the webstreamed meeting. Some locals have supported the councillor and some respondents believe that the Civic Society and Chamber should not have become involved in a council matter.
“We have no wish to stifle debate or free speech, but this should be conducted in an atmosphere of courteous behaviour and consideration of others,” writes Jackie Upton King.
We emailed Cllr Tippins to ask whether she felt that her choice of words was appropriate and whether she intends to apologise to Cllr Welch, as some residents have requested. We also asked for her reaction to the petition and whether she was considering her resignation. Three hours after our deadline, she had not responded. If Cllr Tippins responds to our questions within the next 24 hours, we’ll publish her reply here.
By the time of publishing, 225 people had signed the petition calling for Cllr Tippins to resign, although it’s unclear what the petition will achieve. There’s no legal mechanism for the removal of an elected councillor unless they have been convicted of a serious criminal offence.