Gwlad councillor accused of being ‘obsessed with standing’ as rival calls for review of election rules
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A councillor has called for a review of the way people can join town and community councils because of a man she alleged was “obsessed with standing” whenever vacancies arose.
Swansea councillor Wendy Fitzgerald has written to Wales’ counsel general and minister for the constitution, MS Mick Antoniw, questioning the rule whereby someone can serve on more than one town and community council as long they live within three miles of them.
The Penllergaer ward member also said the cost of holding by-elections for smaller community councils – as opposed to the practice of co-opting new councillors – could be prohibitive.
But the man to whom she referred, Welsh pro-independence party Gwlad member Wayne Erasmus, of Hendy, Carmarthenshire, said he felt aggrieved at being singled out by Cllr Fitzgerald and that his party wanted to bring more openness and transparency to the system.
In his view, the rules of co-opting new councillors were “vague”. He added: “What we want is democracy not ‘chumocracy’.”
Mr Erasmus tried unsuccessfully to get elected as a Llanedi community councillor – serving the Hendy ward – in May last year. He missed out again last November – this time when a vacancy arose for the Tycroes ward. On the same day he also tried to get elected as a Gorseinon town councillor when a vacancy arose there, but he came second out of three candidates.
In August this year he became a Grovesend and Waungron community councillor in an uncontested election, and is now seeking election as a Penllergaer community councillor on August 31.
He said he hadn’t decided whether to put himself forward for another Llanedi Community Council by-election expected on September 28.
Mr Erasmus lives in or within three miles of these four town and community councils and is therefore eligible to serve on all of them.
When vacancies arise, by-elections take place if 10 electors request one. If there isn’t a request, the town or community can co-opt a new councillor, meaning they choose who they want.
Cllr Fitzgerald, of Independents@Swansea, claimed Mr Erasmus encouraged electors to call a by-election and that the one taking place at Penllergaer this month would cost the community council around £4,000.
Her letter to Mr Antoniw asked if it was right for one person to serve on more than one council. “Where does his or her loyalties lie?” it said. The letter also questioned the three-mile eligibility criteria.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Cllr Fitzgerald, who is also a Penllergaer community councillor, said she accepted that by-elections were democratic, but she didn’t think it was right that Mr Erasmus could contest a community council seat in Swansea when he lived across the border in Carmarthenshire.
She also said she wondered if voters who called for by-elections knew the cost of holding them was incurred by that town or community council.
Asked if she might want to serve on another local community council, she said she wouldn’t. “I don’t think it should be happening,” she said. “Why would I want to be on Gorseinon Town Council? I know every road in my Penllergaer ward. I know what’s going on here.”
Mr Erasmus said Gwlad wanted to improve accountability, inclusion and decision-making among town and community councils, and alleged that the process of co-option was sometimes used in a way that excluded some people but not others.
He said the party did not have a policy of encouraging electors to call for by-elections, but added: “What we would say is that, by talking to people, we want to make the electorate aware of their rights.”
Asked what it felt like to become a community councillor for Grovesend and Waungron, the 63-year-old said: “I was very pleased. I believe a difference can be made, and Gwlad will have the opportunity to show what can be done with the right attitude.”
Referring to the upcoming Penllergaer Community Council by-election, Mr Erasmus said he knew the area well as his late grandfather ran a business there. He said he wanted to stand to help people and make them more aware of issues such as large-scale housing schemes and renewable energy developments and infrastructure.
Also standing in the by-election is Independent candidate Dave Harris, of Penllergaer. The Local Democracy Reporting Service has tried to contact him.
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