City prepares legal challenge over local election 'travesty'
CITY leaders have drafted in lawyers to challenge the results of a community council election in Craigmillar amid claims of conflicts of interest and factional in-fighting.
The final stage of voting for the Craigmillar Community Council ended in acrimony when 15 candidates walked out, claiming their opponents used unfair tactics.
Council chiefs made an 11th-hour bid to stop the vote so their complaints could be investigated. But the call was brushed aside by the returning officer, Mike Bell, whose appointment was itself mired in controversy.
Council leader Donald Anderson today branded the election a "travesty", insisting it had been "crazy" to go ahead in the circumstances.
The community council is made up of 16 directly elected individual councillors, plus representatives from eight local groups, such as sporting societies and childcare organisations.
The looming legal battle follows what was seen as a successful first stage of the election, which attracted the highest turnout ever seen in the city for a community council vote. That vote saw several community activists win seats from candidates associated with the "old guard" who had controlled the community council.
It is alleged candidates sympathetic to those who lost out in the first round organised themselves before the second round, ensuring they outnumbered their opponents and could therefore vote themselves in.
Under community council rules, there is a vote for community group representatives if there are more than eight candidates. In these circumstances, it is only the candidates themselves who vote. Although this is not normally controversial, this is the stage which has sparked controversy in Craigmillar.
Several of the groups which put forward candidates are understood to be closely associated with each other and have common funding, leading to suggestions they should have put forward a single candidate.
The decision not to delay the vote to investigate the complaints was taken by Mr Bell, who was appointed by the old Craigmillar Community Council before the elections. More than 400 people signed a petition protesting when he was appointed due to a perceived conflict of interest. Mr Bell works as a development worker with Craigmillar's Capacity Building Project, where his boss is David Walker, the secretary of Craigmillar Community Council before the current election.
The "old guard" defeated in the first round of voting is closely associated with controversial ex-city councillor Paul Nolan. Mr Nolan sparked anger earlier this year when he claimed millions of pounds were being wasted by the Craigmillar Partnership regeneration agency - for which he was chairman of the funding panel - which hands out grants. He has since stepped down.
Cllr Anderson said:
"These elections have been a travesty. People have taken advantage of the fact there are not any robust measures in place to ensure fairness.
"The council wrote to the returning officer and asked him to postpone Thursday's election, but he refused. That is a crazy decision taken for all the wrong reasons.
"This is electoral cleansing. A group of people who don't agree with the others have been wiped out, and that's not the way any election should be run.
"Jim Inch is going to carry out a total review of community council elections. This cannot happen again. We are also taking legal advice and there is likely to be a legal challenge by the council."
City Lib Dem leader, Councillor Jenny Dawe, added: "I find it outrageous these elections went ahead after the council asked for them to be stopped."
Groups which have won Craigmillar Community Council seats and their representatives:
Credit Union - Margaret Evans
Capacity Building Project - Paul Graham
Craigmillar Amateur Boxing Club - Tam Heron
Craigmillar Childcare Services - Ian McCallum
Craigmillar Euro Bureau - John Nolan
Craigmillar Out of School Project - Catherine Nolan
Jack Kane Community Wing - David Brown
Haywired (an IT project) - David Walker
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