As members will be aware, Chris White failed to be re-elected as a Trustee at last Saturday's AGM by a margin of 6 votes. At the Society Committee meeting held on Friday 21st May, we spent about an hour discussing the issues falling out from this result and the implications for the extension project.
It is open to debate as to whether his failure to be re-elected was due to a campaign to oust him as a Trustee or inertia coupled with the assumption that he would be re-elected. We are aware from soundings around the railway that there are members in both camps. Whatever the reason, Chris is no longer Infrastructure Trustee and, in the absence of any other candidate stating a preference for this role, the Society Committee has to find a replacement. With the reduction in the number of Trustees from 12 to 10, this has narrowed the available 'talent pool'.
Rule 11(g) of the Society rules places an obligation on Trustees to ensure that Directors do not remain in office after they cease to have the confidence of the Society. We also have a wider obligation to carry out the policy and Objects of the Society and to implement the preservation objects set out in the Long Term Plan.
There can be no doubt that the most significant objective at the present time is the completion of the extension to East Grinstead and that the biggest obstacle to this is the clearance of the tip. Negotiations for this are complex, delicate and at an advanced stage, involving three tiers of local Government, the Environment Agency and various other statutory bodies. Each one of these has their own concerns about the removal of the tip and the political and financial impact this might have on them should any problems emerge during removal. There is no doubt that they would prefer to take the safe option and leave the tip where it is. It has taken a long time to convince these bodies that we have the skills and abilities to manage such a project and to be sensitive to the political and actual risks involved. Virtually all of this is down to Chris White and members should not under-estimate his achievements in this area. We need to maintain the confidence that these bodies now have in us if we are to meet our objective of reaching East Grinstead by the end of 2006 or early 2007.
Under Rule 12(c), the Society Committee has to nominate candidates to be Directors of the Company. None of the Trustees felt that they had the skills or the time to take on the role of Infrastructure Director, particularly at this key stage of the Northern Extension project. This left us with two options. We could advertise for an Infrastructure Director and perhaps approve the appointment of some-one from outside the Society membership. The new person would have to come up to speed on this project and there would be a risk that confidence in us would be lost and would have to be re-established. All of this would take time and would have a detrimental impact on the timescale for reaching East Grinstead. The other option would be to ask Chris White to remain as Infrastructure Director, reporting to the Society through the Infrastructure sub-committee set up earlier this year under Rule 15(b) and chaired by a Society Trustee.
The Society Trustees felt that it would be wholly unacceptable to introduce delays into the Northern Extension Project whilst we tried to find a suitable replacement. We would lose the hard won credibility we have with the local authorities and the statutory bodies with whom we have to negotiate. Accordingly, the Society Committee voted unanimously that Chris White should continue in office as Infrastructure Director, subject to the need to retire by rotation at the Company's AGM. The Trustees have however stated he should lose his responsibilities for Personnel and Heath & Safety matters. The Infrastructure sub-committee will be chaired by Charles Hudson.
This was not a decision that the Trustees took lightly and it should not been seen as a rejection of the election results. The Trustees were conscious of the narrow margin by which he failed to get re-elected and could not state categorically that he had lost the confidence of the Society as a whole. As stated above, we were also conscious of our wider obligations to implement the Objects of the Society and, in our view, this was the best way of maintaining the momentum on the extension.
If any member has concerns or worries about the action we have taken, please feel free to discuss them with any Society Officer or Trustee - or e-mail the General Secretary - please remove .NOSPAM from this address before sending.
A full list of Trustee and Director responsibilities will be circulated shortly.
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