Forced-removal bid like ‘a vindictive knife’ to outgoing council leader’s heart

The leader of Arun District Council described a call to oust him one week before he had agreed to step down as ‘a vindictive knife into my heart’.

Arun Civic Centre
Arun Civic Centre

During a meeting of the full council on Wednesday (May 12), Lib Dem James Walsh found himself facing a motion asking for both he and his deputy Francis Oppler to be removed ‘with immediate effect’.

Tabled by Grant Roberts (Con, Arundel & Walberton), the motion was eventually withdrawn after more than an hour of back-and-forth between the Tories – who said the move was political not personal – and other councillors, who were less than impressed with what they were hearing.

Dr Walsh’s weren’t the only emotive words being thrown about.

‘Petty’, ‘disgraceful’ and ‘vindictive’ were among the criticisms hurled at the Tories.

Isabel Thurston (Green, Barnham) was one of many who wondered why Dr Walsh was not being allowed to step aside with ‘dignity’.

She said: “It’s like kicking someone when they’re down. It’s terribly, terribly disappointing. This is going to happen next week – we could have done this in a civilized and pleasant way.

“I can’t really believe that we’re having to do this for some kind of little triumph that needs to be put on show.”

The problems started after Dr Walsh acknowledged that the Tories – who now have 24 councillors compared to 16 for the Lib Dems – would want to take over the running of the council at next week’s annual council meeting.

In order to see ‘as orderly a transfer as possible’, he cancelled a cabinet meeting due to be held on Monday and said no cabinet member decisions would be taken during the next week.

Tory leader Shaun Gunner felt Dr Walsh had not stuck to ‘a particular form of words’ agreed before the meeting and promptly called for an adjournment.

The motion calling for the removal of the leader and his deputy was then tabled.

Mr Gunner said the issue was one of trust and his group was ‘rather worried that the current administration very much does not intend on moving’.

Dr Walsh described the situation as ‘time wasting’ and ‘deeply personal’.

He will step down as leader at the beginning of the annual council meeting on Wednesday (May 19).