Kangaroo courts and secret meetings

4 Dec


For those who do not read comments to earlier posts, from a local commentator with some experience of these things:

Dear SID

I copy here the Ottery St Mary Town Council 2nd December Agenda Item concerned:

“26. To consider and decide on action as a result of the breach of confidentiality following the Planning Committee Meeting of 18th November 2013.”

This drafting does no credit to the council because it pre-judges the issue. The chosen wording states “as a result of the breach of confidentiality”.

It is clear that this agenda item was intent not on discovering facts and then openly discussing concerns – as is expected of properly run councils – but of stampeding from accusation to conviction with no intervening debate.

This kind of behaviour from councils is rife across the district. It is one of the uglier manifestations of an historically dominant political party out of step with its national party, local people and the 21st century.

There will be little point in bringing this to the attention of EDDC, though …. where are Arthur Miller and Hendrik Ibsen when we need them?


Furthermore, SID – and please excuse my contributing twice – the classic slot for an agenda item such as this to be placed is miles down the running order at a fatigued number 26.

It’s guaranteed to put pressure at the end of a long meeting on councillors to rush to a hasty judgement. It is also a very bad way to run a meeting because any sentient councillor will know full well what is coming and may not be focussed on the previous 25 items.

I hope Ottery learns something from this.

a) it is not acceptable nowadays for parish or town councils to have private meetings with developers. By all means, invite them in to public meetings, but the moment you go behind closed doors you need a cast-iron public interest reason to do so

b) if there is an eagerness to pull a stunt such as attempting to ban Cllr Giles don’t be surprised when it backfires. I imagine one or two rather well-meaning councillors will have had their ears bent about this before the meeting and may now regret becoming involved. I sincerely hope they will think hard about what a debt of gratitude they owe to Cllr Claire Wright for recording and publishing about these events. They may not like it – but she serves the people more than most. Perhaps Ottery might consider a simple tape recording of their meetings in the future?

c) I have looked at the minutes of the October and November Ottery meetings, and the last item simply records that The Council Went into Confidential Session. When I was on Colyton PC it was told in clear terms by the Monitoring Officer that the nature of what was to be discussed in such closed meetings had to be recorded in the public minutes, and that a resolution had to be proposed, seconded and voted on to agree to do so. The Colyton hierachy reluctantly acknowledged this and have been doing it for the last four years. But I can’t see that the nature of what is to be privately considered is anywhere in Ottery’s minutes?? Perhaps the Clerk should seek advice from the Monitoring Officer.

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