FORMER Petworth clerk Jean Huggett clerk is arming herself with evidence in the wake of a report which resulted in damning criticism from an internal auditor.
Rob Martin was called in by Trevor Leggo, chief executive of the Sussex Association of Local Councils (SALC) to examine the records available and report the findings to the town council. In his report Mr Martin said: “Petworth Town Council has not organised its financial affairs to a level that its council taxpayers deserve and should expect.
“The councillors have allowed the clerk to run the financial and probably other procedures without sufficient effective oversight.”
He added there was ‘no evidence of impropriety’.
But now Mrs Huggett has responded to what she calls a ‘biased’ report.
“During my 13 years as clerk to three different councils there has never been a complaint against me,” she said.
“This report is woefully inadequate as many of Mr Martin’s assumptions are untrue.
“I dispute that the records were in disarray.”
Jean said she resigned because it would be ‘in the best interest of the council’.
She said: “I enjoyed an excellent working relationship with three successive chairmen.
“Sadly when it became clear I would not be able to forge such a relationship with the new chairman, Mr Chris Kemp, I felt it would be in the best interest of the council if I resigned.
“Subsequent events suggest this was the worst decision I have ever made.”
Now councillors who worked alongside Jean have leapt to her defence.
Helen Cruikshank is the clerk to Lodsworth and Northchapel Parish Councils. She said Jean was a ‘hard-working, organised and loyal clerk’.
“I was overwhelmed by her commitment to her job and admired her dedication and the respect she had earned within the town.
“At no time did I ever doubt her integrity or honesty.
“We (clerks) are not all robots, following rules and regulations to the tee but decent honest human beings who are respected by our parishioners as we endeavour to help them and make a difference.
“Mrs Huggett was not a signatory and never signed cheques.”
Cllr Barrie Walsh said cheques were ‘never signed’ by Jean, adding it was ‘impossible for any one person to authorise expenditure.’
He added: “The comment that there was no impropriety is about the only valid comment in this expensive and unnecessary report.
“Jean was known to be meticulous in her record keeping. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.”