Gaffe-prone council limps on as embattled chairman tells Bucks Herald: ‘I’m not going to say any more because you’re writing it down’

Councillor Richard Maskell, chairman of Aston Clinton Parish Council
Councillor Richard Maskell, chairman of Aston Clinton Parish Council

An under the cosh parish council was told it had made yet another gaffe last night – sparking derision from around 40 angry residents who turned up.

Taxpayers in Aston Clinton were already calling for heads after their parish council wasted more than £70,000 in a legal fight over the ownership of a stream – which it eventually admitted it had been wrong to pursue.

And on Wednesday night at the council’s monthly get-together they were told that a vote from an ‘extraordinary meeting’ on July 31 was void because only three out of 11 councillors had bothered to turn up.

At the time, chairman Richard Maskell had assured people that three was enough.

But Carole Paternoster, who represents the ward on the district council, told parish councillors that the minimum number needed to make the meeting and decision quorate – or legal – is in fact four.

Her rebuke was met with loud applause from the public.

And that wasn’t the end of the friction.

Residents were flabbergasted when Mr Maskell suggested verbal contracts – rather than written ones – should be introduced for a village groundsman until the role had been filled permanently.

After gasps from members of the public, one villager told him: “Can I ask what the difference is between a verbal contract and asking your best mate to do the job? It just all seems very casual – and you can’t be casual with other people’s money.

“The point I’m making is this council is not transparent.

“There needs to be transparency in every transaction that this council takes.

“We need to know we are getting the best value for money for our council tax.”

Councillors also turned on one another.

Councillor Paul Crook had angry words for three colleagues who had walked out at a previous meeting over Mr Maskell claiming he was automatically entitled to be the chairman of the staff and finance committee.

They claimed Mr Maskell was acting undemocratically, but Mr Crook told them: “You’ve embarassed us as a council.”

This was met by a call of ‘brown nose’ from the audience to which Mr Crook said: “I object to being called a brown nose by a member of the public, chairman.”

Councillors went on to discuss emails regarding the Peile land row case received from their solicitor on July 11 and 29, advising them that the title deed on land between Old Rectory Farm and the council’s land needed to be changed to reflect the Peile’s ownership of the stream.

Another email received concerned the final invoice for a payment of £26,000 to Lightfoots solicitors and it was decided that the staff and finance committee would discuss where the payment would come from, as there was not enough in the ‘miscellaneous’ bank account.

It was also agreed that official polling cards would be used in the next election at a cost of £1,500.

Councillor David Wallis said: “I’m for it – if we’re going to have an election, we have to do it properly.”

However, there was one moment of light relief when the voice recognition function on someone’s mobile phone piped up: “I’m sorry, I did not get that,” which caused hilarity in the chamber.

Speaking to The Bucks Herald after the meeting, chairman Mr Maskell said: “There are 3,600 in this village, and how many were here tonight?

“I think there is more concern about planning than there is about finance.

“The problem is, the public are not aware of the full picture.

“Generally in the parish, people are overjoyed with the service we provide.

“We have a youth club, sports and social club, play park, football pitches, skateboard park – the list goes on.”

When questioned about the 18% rise in council tax to pay for legal fees incurred from the Old Rectory Farm fiasco, he said: “What people forget is that for six years in a row since 2003, we had a 29% reduction in council tax, but we don’t get anyone coming in here to say thank you.

“We then raised it by 18%, which worked out at around £1.40 a month for band D.

“Anyway, I’m not going to say any more because you’re writing it down and it will go in The Bucks Herald.”