Ken Tatham has been the mayor of the beautiful Normandy village of Saint Céneri le Gerei for 19 years. But he is finally calling it a day with a new round of local elections approaching. Here he tells The Local why more expats should throw themselves into local French politics, even if it means accepting that not everything runs on time, the paperwork can be heavy you might have to clear roads on Christmas Eve with your family.
Why are you deciding to step down?
I think enough is enough. I am 68-years-old. It’s better to leave things when things are good. And I know my wife will be happy to have me around more.
How did you end up being mayor of a French village?
We have lived here since 1970. My wife used to be a local councillor and I kept saying to her “you should do this and do that” and she started to get fed up and said I “should do it myself”, so I gained French nationality so I was eligible and then put myself up for election.
Do you think other expats should put themselves forward?
Certainly. I get very annoyed when people live here and complain but don’t participate. They should at least think about becoming a councillor, or go the whole hog and take out French nationality and become a mayor. They need to speak French though, that is a necessity.
What can Brits and other expats bring to local government in France?
I think a lot of French people would be happy to have expats on local councils. We can bring new ideas especially when it comes to tourism. We have an appreciation for what tourists want. Brits tend to be more pragmatic than the French. Even if it’s just starting a meeting on time. It took me a while to get used to the fact they started them late here, but we begin on time now. Anyone who is interested should just pop down to their local Town Hall and let them know. To get on an electoral list, you just have to prove that you pay your local taxes.
Is the bureaucracy as bad as we expats say it is?
You just have to put up with it. It’s not a nightmare. There is a lot of red tape. They have these layers of local government bureaucracy and a lot of people like to maintain it because they own ambitions are tied to it.
French MPs have just voted to end the “cumuli des mandates” i.e. being a mayor and an MP at the same time. Do you agree?
Basically yes. If you are a mayor of a major city then you shouldn’t be able to be an MP. It’s impossible. But if you are a mayor of a small village then it wasn’t a bad idea. You get the experience of being close to the people. But over all I agree with ending the “cumul des mandats”.
What’s the deal with pay?
I get an allowance of €570 a month, which is not taxable. That’s the minimum. If you are mayor of bigger towns you are eligible to more. It’s not a salary, it just covers expenses. I probably put in around three full days of work a week. Councillors get nothing.
You’re writing a book about you time as mayor, tell us some of things you have had to do.
There’s so many stories. In my first week as mayor, I had to do a marriage, which I had obviously never done before. Then there was an enormous boulder that rolled off a cliff on to the road and blocked traffic for several days. I had no idea who to turn to, to get help. Me and my family also spent one Christmas Vve clearing a road of rocks because no French people were working. I get expats ringing me up from all over France wanting advice on certain situations. They think because I am a mayor I can sort it out.
You can read more about Ken Tatham's experience as mayor of Saint Céneri de Gerei on his blog by CLICKING HERE.