Councillors Say They Need To Trust Each Other Over Meetings
Councillors have rewritten a rule that could be used to prevent members from sitting in on some Council meetings.
And the debate, in the Full Council meeting on Tuesday, became heated when the Vice Chairman Steve Sims accused fellow councillors of leaking too much information to the community.
Until the change, the Council’s rules allowed all elected members to attend any committee or subcommittee meeting, whether they were on that committee or not. Non-appointed members could discuss items, with the permission of the Chairman, but not vote.
But they weren’t allowed to go along to the private meetings known as working parties, if they weren’t appointed to them.
Some members have claimed that more and more Council business is being discussed in these closed-door sessions, which only a select number of members can attend.
Cllrs Gordon Bilsborough and Fran Grottick wanted the rule changed to give councillors the right to attend any meeting discussing Council business.
But Cllr Sims said he wanted to continue with the restriction, citing a recent airport meeting, “that got leaked verbatim to the press.”
He said it’s created a situation “where frankly you can’t trust all your colleagues,” and “the less people there the better.”
That brought a strong response from Cllr Andy Guy, who said Cllr Sims words were “inappropriate” and accused the Vice Chairman of leaking information himself.
The Council’s Senior Legal Officer Richard Burraston said there were practical reasons not to allow all members to attend working parties, especially where confidential information is being discussed.
But Cllr Fran Grottick had researched this and found that “quite a few councils” including Cornwall open up their working parties, even to members of the public.
She said it was up to the Chairman to decide when people are excluded if sensitive items are being discussed.
And Mr Burraston admitted on further questioning from Cllr Christine Saville that his advice was just “a warning” and making the change wouldn’t be illegal.
Cllr Gaz O’Neill felt councillors needed to trust one another. He said the more people that are involved in any discussion, the more likely it will leak into the public domain, but “that’s a risk we run.”
And he said they couldn’t start self policing by saying “we won’t invite that person.”
That view was echoed by Cllr Mike Nelhams, who said this is a small community who know each other well.
“If we can’t be trusted to keep our views to ourselves outside the council chamber” he said, “then we shouldn’t really be councillors.”
In the end, eight members voted to change the rules to open up the working parties to any councillor who wants to attend.
They were Gordon Bilsborough, Colin Daly, Adrian Davis, Fraser Hicks, Fran Grottick, Andy Guy, Mike Nelhams and Gaz O’Neill.
Four councillors wanted to keep the current restrictions on attendance and voted against the amendment. They were Richard McCarthy, Christine Saville, Steve Sims and Robert Dorrien Smith.