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Devon Councillors allege Freemason influence in committee chair appointments and planning decisions

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This is South Devon

Row erupts as Tories lose committee seats

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

This is Exeter

THE FOUR councillors are angry at their removal from council committees.

Chartered surveyor Roger Carter, who voiced his anger at a council meeting, is angry that Tory leader Kevin Carroll has removed him from Development Control, where he says his qualifications were ideal.

The former Torquay Chamber of Commerce vice-chairman, believes his problems began when he voted against the controversial plans for the Hi Flyer balloon.

He said: "Conservative members were called in individually to Kevin Carroll's office. He told me it was Conservative policy to pass the balloon and that I should vote for it. I said I wouldn't be told which way to vote."

He said: "Since I became a councillor I wanted to keep a low profile and get on with things.

"Why the hell have I wasted the past two years of my life trying to do something of worth? I thought I had some skills that could benefit the people of the Bay."

On the issues of Freemasons Cllr Carter said: "I think the masons issue is very serious. Things will be passed without real debate and then you've got buildings there for the next 50-odd years."

Former mayor's executive Nicole Amil claims she has been 'bullied' and 'harassed' for not toeing the party line.

She has been removed as vice-chairman of harbours committee after two years. The Goodrington-with-Roselands councillor says she never missed a meeting and fulfilled her commitments. Neither has she claimed expenses.

Cllr Amil fears there are steps to remove her from the outside bodies she stands on and says she is taking 'appropriate action'.

She said: "I will not be drawn into personalities and trading committee positions. There is too much power in the hands of too few people. This cannot be a good way to run an administration. This is dictatorship not democracy. I don't expect someone I challenge to take revenge. His leadership skills leave a lot to be desired."

She claimed: "The council is very much Freemason led. I had no idea it was such a strong force and I would say it has got stronger in recent years."

Prominent Torre businessman and former Torbay Chamber of Commerce chairman Robert Excell has been stripped of council positions. He was the only person to stand against Kevin Carroll in the recent ballot for group leader.

He has now been removed from his position as lead chairman scrutiny for Pride in the Bay and the new economy. He is still on the transportation working party and civic committee and remains the Mayor's champion for emergency planning and children's champion for youth provision.

Cllr Excell emphasised he was not concerned about the loss of allowances or his own 'demotion' but about the way other councillors who supported him at the group leader vote have been treated. He said: "Cllr Carroll is allowed to designate jobs as he sees fit and I don't have a problem with that. I could have understood it if he just took it out on me. I have nothing against Kevin or the way he is doing this, but I personally would have managed it differently. The way he is doing it is not helping to bring the Tory group together. I just hope Kevin sees common sense on this."

On the question of Freemasons in the council, Cllr Excell said: "The public perception is that if you have people from the same club doing this job, it doesn't take much imagination to see there could be some conflict of interest. I have the greatest respect for the Freemason movement, it is unfortunate some people use it to further their own agenda. There definitely is a need for more transparency."

Veteran councillor Gordon Oliver has lost his position as chairman of the harbours committee. Cllr Oliver, who is chairman of the Torbay Hospitality Association, served for many years on Devon County Council.

He has now also lost his positions on the Torbay Council constitution working party committee and the health and wellbeing scrutiny board. He said: "I've worked for 34 years in local government. I must be one of the longest- serving members in Devon."

There are three councillors on the nine-strong development control committee listed as Masons Derek Mills, Terry Manning, Robert Horne and David Thomas has confirmed he is training to be a mason.

Jeff Attwood, a freemason spokesman from South Devon, said: "We can't see any problem. But we know how the public feels about this. It doesn't mean they all agree because they're masons. We try to convince people there's nothing sinister but we're not always successful."

Maurice Eglinton, Assistant Provincial Grand Master for Devonshire, added: "Freemasons are from all walks of life. It does not necessarily mean they all would agree with each other."

Tormohun Tory Robert Horne said that membership of Freemasons was an 'irrelevance' in development control.

He said: "Masonry is not for personal gain or anything like that. We don't sit around and connive among ourselves. "

Cllr Derek Mills said masonry and the council were 'completely divorced'. "It is the same as any other charitable organisation. It is separate from my work on the council. I am very disappointed if anyone is questioning my integrity."

Cllr Terry Manning said: "Being a member of the masons makes no difference at all. People are just taking out of context."

Development control committee chairman and deputy group leader Cllr David Thomas said: "No-one has ever asked whether I voted on particular issues because I am a mason. I would never do that. I have my own integrity to consider."

Further Reading:

UK Freemasonry in the News, have the 'Brethren' finally met their Waterloo?