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Saturday
Feb262011

Closed Workshops (2)

The technique introduced by our new Mayor of conducting all major business behind the closed doors of "workshops" was the subject of an interesting Page one lead story in Friday's (25th) HH.

Readers will of course be aware of my concerns about this practice (apparently picked up from John Tregidga) that I outlined in my post on Closed Workshops on 13 December. I have now written to the HH in order to support the claims of Robin Plummer and Stan Sims who made some good points, which Mayor Leach will not be happy to read. If the HH fails to publish my letter next Friday, I will post it here.

Already a "Council Spokesman" is reported as saying that "the draft Annual Plan is available on line and at Council offices". I would suggest that that is not what Messrs Plummer and Sims were complaining about, but constitutes the usual obfuscation, and avoidance of the issue. I trust that the Mayor can do better. 

I would also be interested in what exactly is the information about workshops that they are willing to provide - they are "closed door", and they cannot make decisions - what more do you need to know? It is the corralling of debate and discussion that those who are concerned about democracy are on about. It is time the Council appointed a new "spokesman" if that is the best he can do - perhaps it is time for a "spokesperson"!

The whole question raises some interesting legal points that may bear an enquiry of TCDC legal advisors - Brookfields, within our Council's ample legal budget. 

I quote from papers being presented to the Wednesday's Council Meeting:

The legal requirements for Council meetings are set down in the LocalGovernment Act 2002 and Local Government Official Information andMeetings Act 1987. All Council and committee meetings must be open to the public unless there is reason to consider an item "in committee", which means that these items are deemed to be confidential and members of the public will be asked to leave the room until discussion on the item has been completed.

The Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 contains a list of the circumstances where Council may consider items with the public excluded. These circumstances generally relate to protection of personal privacy, professionally privileged or commercially sensitive information, and the maintenance of public health, safety and order.

Although this does not specifically exclude the possibility of all major council business being conducted in such a way as to exclude the public through the use of the "workshop" device, I would suggest that such action may well be outside the intent of the Act, and potentially the subject of a successful Judicial Review.

It is inconceivable that legislators intended that councils be permitted to conduct their business in such a way that the only "public included" portion was the actual decision. That indeed was the case on 3 February when Council adopted the draft Annual Plan in 5 minutes without any debate whatsoever.

It only needs a concerned member of the public to institute action to seek such a review, and there clearly are concerned members of public out there.

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (2)

Excellent post Bill.
Closed sessions smack of something to do with denial of democratic process, openess and accountability and those sorts of issues. I am surprised that an experienced councillor such as Hoadley would consent to being a party to such tactics as 'closed workshops.' Indeed I would have thought that most people would have viewed closed workshops with alarm. Whatever might be going on in closed sessions, the citizens of Thames ought, properly, if they are interested, to be able to hear the opinions that our elected representatives are expressing around the table in a public forum. It is simply not good enough for them to hide their opinions for the public. What is it that they might not want people to hear?
One would reasonably have expected that new councillers would want the public to witness and hear debates, as a part of establishing a credibility, both as individuals and as a team. I would like to know that all aspects of community opinion are being properly and fully aired in robust debate. While some decisions might not go as we, the community, might want or expect, we can at least be satisfied that the discussion was had, for all to hear should they choose.
It seems to me that our new councillors have been silly, at best, in allowing democratic process to be subverted so quickly in the interests to leadership and team.
It is good to see messrs Plummer and Sims making public comment, and, surprisingly, getting a front page spread... What, real news is our newspaper? Unheard of.
Closed sessions, combined with a singular lack of newspaper coverage, isolates our communities from participation. That sort of arrogant rule / governance leads down an unhappy path. Ask someone from the Middle East.

February 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRussell

Bloody good comments Russell - you win, but there is unfortunately nothing to celebrate.

February 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterBill Barclay

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