Vacancy for a Town Councillor: By-Election (cost c.£9,000) or Co-option - you decide

Written by Neil Goodwin on .

Following Councillor Edward Northeast's resignation from the Town Council there is a vacancy for one Councillor for the East Ward.  As the next election is more than six months away (May 2021), the new Councillor wil be selected either by by-election (all electorate of Ward to vote), or by co-option (selection by current Town Council).


What does this all mean?  If ten electors from the East Marlbrough Ward write - by 12 March - to the Returning Officer in Trowbridge and request that an election be held then a by-election will be arranged to take place no later than 20 May.  If fewer than ten electors make that request, it will be for the current Town Council to 'co-opt' a new Councillor, as happened recently with Councillor Vanessa Hillier, who was joined the council in December last year to replace outgoing Cllr Harry Forbes.


The process commenced last night (24 February) at an Extraordinary meeting of the Town Council where the vacancy was 'noted' by Councillors.


By-election, or co-option?  


Democracy would be best served by a full by-election, where the entire electorate could see, hear and listen to the candidates, ask questions, evaluate answers and then decide who would best serve their interests.  The downside is that democracy costs, and the Town Clerk estimated that for the previous vacancy the cost of such a process would have been in the region of £9,000 - all of which would be borne by the Town Council.  The cost of electing either one councillor or all (at a full term Council election) is almost the same.


The alternative - a 'co-option', where Councillors invite appllications from qualifying residents, who then present themselves to Councillors at what could be regarded as an employment panel.  Councillors then each vote (secretly) as to whom they think would be best to fill the position.  Electors would then be reliant on the judgement of Councillors whom they had elected, or maybe not if some or all Councillors had been similarly co-opted at a previous time.


Details of the process can be found on the Town Council website.