There were fireworks at Monday night’s meeting of the Chandler’s Ford Parish Council (November 5) after Councillor David Pragnell refused to apologise to the council auditor.
At a previous meeting of the Parish Council Cllr Pragnell had been referred to the Standards Monitoring Officer over an article he had published in a newsletter entitled:
In the article Cllr Pragnell claimed the internal auditor had criticised the Conservative ruling group on the Parish Council for holding excessive reserves for reasons that ‘do not stand up to scrutiny” and went on to accuse them of financial “mismanagement”.
The auditor concerned had written to the council insisting she was politically impartial and asked that Cllr Pragnell should apologise to her. Accordingly the council passed a motion calling on Pragnell, who had been absent for the debate, to apologise and also voted to refer the matter to the Monitoring Officer.
At Monday’s meeting, the chair Cllr Margaret Atkinson, asked Cllr Pragnell to explain why he had not yet apologised to the auditor.
The Lib Dem then launched a vigorous defence to a background accompaniment of pyrotechnic bangs, whistles and shrieks from the bonfire parties taking place outside on the Velmore estate.
However Cllr Pragnell seemed to be defending himself against a completely different set of allegations.
Cllr Pragnell appeared to believe he had been unjustly accused of releasing confidential council business into the public domain and that the Leader of Eastleigh Conservatives, Cllr Olson was to blame.
“If you are suggesting that the reports audits and financial affairs of this council are private and the public cannot see them then your political compass is way off beam;
“If you are suggesting that they shouldn’t be put into the public domain and should be kept private then Cllr Olson is the Chair of the Policy and finance committee he is responsible, he put them in the public domain.
“I don’t think it’s my fault they are in the public domain. It’s not our money, it belongs to the public.”
The councillor then alleged that at a meeting on 14 November 2011 Cllr Olson had said
“It seems to be a long time since the local Tory party had any real power”
Addressing Cllr Olson directly Cllr Pragnell admonished him saying:
“Let me inform you are not here to exercise power – nobody is”
At this point, Cllr Olson, indignant at the Lib Dems attempt to turn the knife round objected;
“That’s not a comment I would have made”
“You did make it!” retorted Cllr Pragnell.
Another Conservative, Cllr Boyes interjected
Boyes: “What are you talking about? That’s not the issue”
Pragnell: It is the issue!
Boyes: “You’re answering the wrong question. No one has denied it’s (the accounts) in the public domain – that not the reason for the apology.
Cllr Atkinson had to bring the meeting to order
“I think you have gone off the point a little bit – It’s our auditors request that you make an apology” said Cllr Atkinson and began to read out the auditor’s letter of complaint for clarification but was soon cut short by Cllr Pragnell
“That may very well be her words but the whole aspect of raising the topic had nothing to do with parish council it is purely politics.” He declared.
Atkinson: You have brought the name of this council into disrepute by allowing it to be suggested that our auditor has a political bias.
Pragnell: No I didn’t!
Atkinson: I believe that is the case and it is the opinion of this council and I believe it is a democratic council.
Pragnell: That’s an interesting point I don’t actually think it is democratic as such.
Atkinson: Cllr Pragnell I think we have had enough wittering – to be blunt – I am not proposing to continue this because you have made it clear to this council that you are not going to make an apology to our auditor. Is that correct ?
Atkinson: That will be noted and we will deal with that as a separate issue.
The unrepentant councillor’s refusal leaves the fledgling council uncertain as to their next move. Eastleigh Newsunderstands they are taking ’professional advice’.
There is a possibility that the Cllr Pragnell could be referred to standards for a third time.
Interestingly, during Monday night’s exchange neither of Cllr Pragnell’s Lib Dem colleagues rallied to his side.
Also quiet on the opposition was the sole Labour member Peter Luffman.
At the previous meeting when Cllr Pragnell’s case was originally discussed Cllr, Luffman had recommended that the council should not take further action against Cllr Pragnell provided he agreed to apologise to the auditor – arguing that not to do so would give the councillor little incentive to comply.
This option was rejected by the council but it would seem that the veteran Labour councillor’s prediction was right.