Friday, 16 May 2014

District Council: vote on restricting councillors speaking

This week there have been two controversial motions before the District Council:

At the AGM on Wednesday 14th May:

Recommended: a new Procedural Standing Order 10.3 be added: 
Where a motion on notice has been submitted in accordance with this standing 
order, and prior to the despatch of the agenda, the Chief Executive may seek to clarify the purpose and/or wording of such a motion (such action may include recommending its rewording) so as to ensure that any such motion, if approved, is compliant with the Council's legal and administrative powers. 
Where the wording of the motion is not immediately relevant to the business of the Council, the presumption is that it will be referred to the relevant committee or Overview and Scrutiny Committee in the first instance to enable research to be properly carried out into the issue to facilitate a relevant and informed debate. 


At the Overview and Scrutiny Cttee meeting on Thurs 15th May:

Introduction of pre-registration of all public speakers at Development Management Committee on planning applications so that the public (meaning those who have submitted written comment on an application) are required to register, with Democratic Services, their wish to speak on an item 3 working days before the meeting. 


See also:
Futures Forum: District Council: to vote on restricting public speaking: Thurs 15th May

Here is a report of Wednesday's meeting from Cllr Claire Wright:

“The thought police have walked into the room”

Friday, 16 May 2014 3 Comments by Claire
East Devon District Council has imposed a restriction on the participation of councillors in the democratic process.
The EDDC annual general meeting on (Wednesday) 14 May) proposed constitutional changes to the motions procedure.
Before 14 May a group of at least five EDDC councillors had the right to include a notice of motion on the agenda of EDDC full council meetings.
The proposal was that the EDDC chief executive may seek to clarify that a motion “is compliant with the Council’s legal and administrative powers” and “where the wording of the motion is not immediately relevant to the business of the Council” it should first be referred to an EDDC committee, so that research could be carried out and an informed debate could take place.
Accusations of whipping have dogged the conservatives at full council meetings as several of my own motions have been voted down en bloc by the ruling group.  See the report on my last motion debate here - http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/motion_on_cutting_tourism_vat_is_headline_grabbing_soundbites
Cllr Roger Giles (Ottery Town – independent) was very concerned about the proposal. He said that motions were a legitimate and very useful part of councillors being able to represent their constituents interests, and to be involved in the council’s policy making.
He said that in the previous 12 months there had been 14 motions included on the agenda. To agree the proposal would be to delay and obstruct the process. It would be a restriction, and it would diminish the role that councillors could play.  Roger Giles moved an amendment to delete the proposals.
Cllr Ray Bloxham (Raleigh - conservative) spoke in support of the proposal. He said that it would allow a better informed debate on matters which are not the council’s business.
Leader of the EDDC independent group, Cllr Ben Ingham (Woodbury and Lympstone), said: “the thought police have walked into the room.” He added that there was ample time between the agenda being published and the meeting taking place, for councillors to swot up the subject. He said the proposal was about stopping councillors coming up with ideas.
Cllr Trevor Cope (Exmouth Brixington – independent) indignantly claimed “This is a gagging order.”
Cllr Peter Halse (Honiton St Michael’s - conservative) said the first part of the proposal was perfectly sensible. He disputed that it was a “gagging order.”
Cllr Helen Parr (Coly Valley - conservative) simply couldn’t believe that any councillor would debate an issue without being fully informed.
However, cllr Geoff Pook (Beer and Branscombe – Independent) feared that there was a certain amount of stopping debate in the proposal.
The chief executive thought that the first part of the proposal referred to a power that he thought he already had.
As the mover of the amendment to delete the proposal Roger Giles summed up the debate.
He pointed out that the EDDC meeting of 26 February 2014 Ray Bloxham had proposed a motion on notice about Legal Highs.
Roger Giles had felt this was a good initiative and had been pleased to vote in support of it. However it certainly was not something which was the council’s core business – and would have been caught by the new rules.
With regard to the need for a motion to be referred to a committee to enable a report to be written (which could delay the matter by several months). Roger Giles had submitted a motion: “Disaggregated Approach to Planning” for the EDDC meeting of 24 July 2013. EDDC officers had provided a written report on the matter in time for the meeting!
Roger Giles concluded by asking: “What is the need for this?” He said such decisions should be made by elected members – not officers.
The vote was then taken with the conservative councillors voting as a group to delete Roger Giles` amendment, and to approve the restriction.

Motions - 2013/2014                        Proposed by
Disaggregated Approach to Planning   Roger Giles   independent
Staffing Levels                                  Ben Ingham   independent
Exeter to Salisbury Railway               Roger Giles   independent
Tree Protection                                 Claire Wright independent
Local Retail Levy                              Ben Ingham   independent   
Post Offices                                      Ken Potter   independent
Probity in Planning                           Claire Wright independent
Car Parking Charges                         Roger Giles Independent
Nuclear Test Veterans                      Paul Diviani conservative
Lobbying                                         Claire Wright independent
EDDC Office Relocation                    Claire Wright independent
Legal Highs                                     Ray Bloxham conservative
Affordable Housing                          Jill Elson conservative
Tourism                                          Claire Wright independent
1. At 11:49 am on 16th May Paul wrote:
It was a sad day when they gagged the local residents. Its an even sadder day when they gag their elected representatives.
2. At 11:54 am on 16th May Philip Algar wrote:
I have a suggestion which would streamline local government business. Why don’t we ill-informed and democratically-minded voters and councillors just shut up?  We should allow those superior people who are in power to rule us without all these time-wasting debates on issues on which our revered councillors, by definition, know best? Perhaps we should also abandon elections, just in case some of those in power are voted out?l
3. At 01:39 pm on 16th May Damien Mills wrote:
East Devon District Council’s constitution sets out, quite explicitly, the process which must be observed in order for said constitution to be revised.
It is, therefore, more than a little ironic that in this instance the council appears to have ignored its own rules. Here’s a link to the current constitution:
Article 14, which can be found on Page 46, deals with reviewing and revising the constitution.
It states the following: 
Protocol for Monitoring and Review of Constitution by Monitoring Officer 
A key role for the Monitoring Officer is to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the Constitution adopted by the Council, and to make recommendations for ways in which it could be amended in order better to achieve the purposes set out in Article 1 [to monitor and review the operation of the Constitution to ensure that its aims and principles are given full effect]. In undertaking this task the Monitoring Officer will:
1. Observe meetings of different parts of the Member and officer structure;
2. Undertake an audit trail of a sample of decisions;
3. Record and analyse issues raised with him / her by Members, officers, the public and other relevant stakeholders; and
4. Compare practices in the Council with those in other comparable authorities, or national examples of best practice.
Clearly, in this instance this demands that Ms Lyon has: [1] undertaken an audit of the council’s motion procedure; [2] recorded and analysed issues [apropos motions ‘not immediately relevant to the business of the council] raised with her by members, officers, the public and other relevant stakeholders; and [3] compared practices at the Knowle with those in other comparable authorities, or national examples of best practice.
This being the case, one would presume the Monitoring Officer presented her findings to yesterday’s meeting. Indeed, it would be even more ironic – some may sinister – if those who supported a motion purporting to be motivated by a desire for more informed debate, allowed it to be voted through in the absence of such information!
“The thought police have walked into the room” - Claire Wright.

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