Why did councillors walk out of meeting?

At this month’s Draycott-in-the-Moors Parish Council meeting, held on October 20th, two councillors got up and abandoned the meeting – despite the fact that a hugely important issue which needed their input was due to take place. Why?
The answer is: no one quite knows…

Application to build 168 homes

Over fifty residents had packed the church hall for the meeting – because a major item listed on the agenda was a discussion of the planning application for a new housing estate & business park in Cresswell.  Some 168 homes could be built on the Blythe Park site. Many of the residents, though not all, were bitterly opposed to the plans.

(As it was, the discussion was deferred to next month’s meeting, on November 17th, in order to allow time for a full public meeting and a proper exhibition of the plans – details of that public meeting will be released by the parish council shortly).

Walk-out

The walk-out by the two councillors came about at the start of the evening
just as a member of the public, Shelagh Wood, started video-recording the proceedings.
A new law brought in by the government last month allows for the public to film council meetings.

Councillor John Ford

Cllr John Ford

One of the councillors, John Ford, objected to the filming – but it was pointed out to him that the filming was quite legal.  Mr Ford said that he was “a volunteer” and did not see why he should be filmed. He got up and left, to be followed by the vice-chairman of the council, Gordon Winfield.
The other councillors – Jane Meller, Mark Deaville, Pauline Clarke, Roger Tabbinor and the chairman Tony Fletcher – stayed in their places, as did the two ‘observing’ local district councillors, Colin Pearce and David Trigger.
It’s not clear exactly why the two councillors left.

(The Association of Local Councils already says that, though parish councillors are unpaid, they cannot be classed as ‘volunteers’; councillors have greater responsibilities than a volunteer might, and cannot opt-out as a volunteer might.
Also, district councillors, such as those at Staffordshire Moorlands District Council are also ‘volunteers’ – but SMDC has not objected to the law.)

Because the meeting-quorum was still in force, it’s quite possible that the planning application – crucial though it is – could even have been decided in the two councillors’ absence.

New law on filming

The new law allowing video-recording of councils was brought in by the current government to combat what it has described as secretive local councils which try to block public transparency of their proceedings.

Eric Pickles, the local government minister, has been quoted: “….robust public scrutiny is essential for a healthy local democracy. We have given councils more power, but local people need to be able to hold their councils to account.
“I asked for councils to open their doors, but some have slammed theirs shut, calling in the police to arrest bloggers and clinging to old-fashioned standing orders.
“It was Mrs Thatcher (as a minister) who introduced the right to attend council meetings back in 1960. It is right that we now bring her legacy up to date with the digital age. Councillors should not be shy about the good work that they do.”

Video camera (pic: Wiki Commons)

Controversy surrounds use of the video camera (pic: Wiki Commons)

However, Mr Pickles’ new law has already caused controversy.  While many councils across the country have welcomed the moves toward more openness, some councillors have  reacted angrily: in East Suffolk last month, all the Beyton Village Council members walked out, cancelling their meeting, rather than allow filming.

What next?

No doubt Mr Ford and Mr Winfield will want to explain to electors as soon as they can why they abandoned such an important meeting.
Certainly, if they wish to use the pages of this website to explain their actions, we can assure them they will have as much space as they need.

However, the more important issue is: …what happens at the next meeting?
Shelagh Wood says she will be filming at the next meeting.  She says her motivation is quite simple: as someone very worried about the housing planning application, and a member of the local VVSM Community Action Group, all she wants to achieve is an unchallengeable account of the meeting, so that the main points of the debate can be recorded, and examined later, without misinterpretation caused by faulty memory.

So… will the two councillors leave any future meetings in the same fashion?  Do they even feel they may have to resign from the parish council altogether?  (After all, they can’t get up and leave each and every time someone starts filming a meeting.)

However, the planning debate, which now will take place at the November meeting, will be one that could mark the beginning of irrevocable changes to Draycott-in-the-Moors.
Electors will surely want all their representatives there for a meeting as important as that.

More reading
Gov.uk – Making local councils more transparent and accountable to local people 
Gov.uk – Transparency code for parish councils
Staffordshire Parish Councils Website – New rules on open local government
Independent – Local government can no longer act like Putin, says Pickles 

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7 responses to “Why did councillors walk out of meeting?

  1. Keep up good work

    With regard to the Parish Council Meeting on Monday October 20th.

    The walk-out event that took place came as a shock to everyone, but the main matter as far as objectors are concerned is to push on and not be disrupted by people who for their own reasons decided to exit the proceedings.
    We will push forward, we will fight these plans and as in the past we will not give up. Looking forward to helping put these objections in place.

    We have two great people in Cresswell who spend endless hours sorting all this out; and I say to Jacquie and Shelagh – I say keep up the great work, you are doing us proud.

    Bazo

    Like

  2. Filming, for the record

    Although it is nice to see other peoples’ comments regarding the Parish Council meeting on Monday, my aim was purely to record all comments made on the subject of the proposed planning application so that an accurate record of the meeting could be made.
    To the best of my knowledge minutes taken at Town/Parish Council meetings are not verbatim, so this was the only way to do it, (unfortunately my shorthand isn’t as good as it used to be to enable me to take minutes verbatim).

    My filming of the meeting was not intended to be any other than what I have just said. If this has upset anyone then I can only say that it is now legislation to be able record Town/Parish Council meetings and the subject an extremely important one, whatever your opinion on the subject.

    Please note that the Parish Council was sent an email prior to the meeting about the recording the same; the reply from the Parish Council was that it was fine to record it but please be aware that some members of the public may not want to be included in the filming and to ask the public as to whether or not they minded. The public present were asked and all of them said they had no objection.

    Shelagh Wood

    Like

  3. Disproportionate

    Thank you to everyone that turned up to the meeting.
    As with the Power Station proposal, your support has been tremendous. I do agree with Mark: upsetting each other through derogatory remarks isn’t going to help.

    I am ploughing through the application and putting forward VVSM’s objections.
    What I can’t understand is why SMDC have proposed 25 houses in Draycott (a reasonably large village) to fill their Core Strategy targets and why Mr Barrett wants to put 168 houses and a large Business Park in a small hamlet on a C-rated road when the targets no longer need to be reached?
    Please do not misunderstand me, I do not agree that 25 houses should go up in Draycott; and if the people of Draycott wish to oppose that too I am more than willing to help.
    It just seems so disproportionate.

    jleach2

    Like

  4. VVSM’s ideas regarding democracy, and its attitude to free speech, need to be understood.

    R

    Some ‘flaming’ remarks have been removed from this comment. Ed

    Like

  5. Surprising behaviour

    Such behaviour from elected representatives is reprehensible.
    Given that both individuals are on the cusp of becoming pensionable age makes such behaviour all the more surprising….

    You should both formally apologise and provide an immediate undertaking that there will be no recurrences of this nature, or alternatively vacate your positions in order that more suitable candidates be found.

    Local Resident

    Some personal remarks have been removed from this post – Ed

    Like

  6. Beneficial for all

    Perhaps Mrs Wood’s filming being an “unchallengeable account” and that discussions/debate could not be open to “misinterpretation caused by faulty memory” will put an end to misquoting, misreporting and meddling in council matters!
    Beneficial for all then?
    Good for Shelagh! How public-spirited!

    No-name

    Some personal remarks about individuals have been removed from this comment. Ed

    Like

    • Adjusting comments

      It appears the editor is adjusting comments to his own ends. This is not freedom of speech. You completely changed what was said in the “Beneficial for all” comment. You are undermining the very democracy you all pretend to desire. Beware anyone who posts a comment. The ‘editor’ will change wording to suit his cause.

      No-name

      Ed’s reply:
      Thanks for this comment. Running anything as local as this website means the editor has to have a sense of responsibility and disallow comments that might be seen as derogatory or even slanderous, or designed to promote conflict. But, yes, one also wants to allow thoughtful comments and legitimate criticisms.
      You made some thoughtful comments in your original comment, but also some that were slanderous, so I took the quite usual course of editing your comment.
      If you wish to re-write your comment, I’d be happy to start again. Or, if you want to publish your comment independently (say, on a Facebook page) I guess I could link to that if you like.
      I could also delete your ‘Beneficial for all’ post if you prefer.

      Liked by 1 person

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