COMMENT: Wise choice of Horsham chairman draws line under battles past

Christian Mitchell new chairman of Horsham District Council SUS-160526-115718001
Christian Mitchell new chairman of Horsham District Council SUS-160526-115718001

The appointment of a new chairman of any district authority normally passes with little public fuss or comment.

After all, the role is not one that wields power. That belongs to a council leader. The chairman’s position is ceremonial. It is civic. It is a symbol of the pride that residents feel for the town or village in which they live.

But the induction of 39-year-old Christian Mitchell as the youngest Conservative chairman of Horsham District Council last week does merit more than a footnote in the history of our district.

It was an event that was never destined to take place.

Two years ago, Mr Mitchell made headlines in the County Times after he was unceremoniously stripped of his chairman-elect role.

‘Sacked for standing up for you’ were the words emblazoned on the front page.

Having served a year as vice chairman, an office which always leads to the senior role, he said he had paid the price for articulating the concerns of his residents about the North Horsham plan.

From that intemperate decision by his Conservative colleagues a whole Free Speech campaign was born.

Mr Mitchell was the first to sign up to the County Times’ Charter followed by elected representatives across the political spectrum. The Lib Dems and UKIP demonstrated particular strength and good sense.

Even the most senior Tory councillor in Sussex Louise Goldsmith gladly added her name to the role of honour.

Since then, Mr Mitchell has continued to lobby vigorously for open local government - always striving to put the public interest first and personal political concerns last.

Finally justice has been done.

No-one better represents all that the office of chairman should proclaim than Mr Mitchell. We have no doubt that in espousing a theme for the year ‘one Horsham district fair for all’ he is utterly sincere.

As a newspaper, we appreciated his strong words of support for our coverage in his acceptance speech.

He does, of course, follow an amazing chairman from last year. Tricia Youtan has fulfilled the role - to quote the eloquent words of Philip Circus - with distinction. We applaud her without reservation for her extraordinary term of office.

Mr Mitchell has chosen three fine local charities to support in the coming twelve months: The Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity, The Springboard Project, and the Horsham division of the St John Ambulance.

He will also continue to promote the Chairman’s Charitable Trust which has provided so much support for those in need in the district and was established by Mr Circus during his year as chairman.

Newspapers and their editors do not always get it right, and time has shown that our criticism of the trust at the height of the row over Mr Mitchell’s deselection was unfair and unjustified. The trust is a huge achievement and stands as a great testament to Mr Circus’ year in office and to the civic importance of the role of council chairman.

Finally, had the Conservative group under the leadership of Ray Dawe not come together in support of Mr Mitchell, last week’s ceremony would never had occurred.

So we congratulate all councillors on a principled decision and Mr Dawe in particular for showing wise and strong leadership.

In drawing a line under all the challenges of the past we wish the new chairman, his vice chairman Mr Roger Clarke, and the entire council every success in serving the people of the Horsham district with distinction in the coming civic year.

We are proud of Horsham and the South Downs, and the work of our councillors of all political persuasions and none in ensuring this really is the best place in which to live and work.

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