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How should a town or parish council proceed in the absence of a clerk?  The council is not able to act except by holding a meeting, but the summons to a meeting is supposed to be signed by the proper officer.  If nobody is presently the proper officer for this purpose, how does the council lawfully hold a meeting?
by (33.0k points)

4 Answers

0 votes
I am also interested in the answer to this question, being a new councillor. If anyone know perhaps they would supply the answer.
by (160 points)
0 votes
You would probably arrange to borrow a Town Clerk from a neighbouring authority as my Council did years ago when our Town Clerk was ill due to a heart attack , a Councillor could act as Clerk but could not be paid
by (180 points)
Good idea, but I'm not sure it answers the question. In a larger authority, no doubt the chief officer would have a deputy. But in the typical parish council, the clerk is the only officer. The conundrum in the question is how can the council appoint a proper officer without holding a meeting, and how can it hold a meeting without a proper officer? The common sense answer is that the council cannot be blocked by such a circumstance, and that in the absence of any proper officer, any competent person can assist the council in calling a meeting to deal with the problem.
Wouldn't you just follow the procedure outlined in Standing Orders for the calling of extraordinary meetings?  A Chairman can call an extraordinary meeting at any time and they refuse, normally 2 or 3 Councillors are required to call a meeting...
you did not state the reasons why you might not have a Clerk, Yes of course the Chairman of the Council should convene a special meeting to discuss the situation and that procedure should be in Standing Orders but in the event that your Clerk has resigned or is incapable of attending it would be wise for the Chairman to ask a neighbouring Council to lend their Town Clerk to assist the Special Meeting and advise on what to do and how to go about it
Thanks, I don't doubt that a council would cope. The assumption in the question is that the former clerk is totally unavailable e.g. has died suddenly or been summarily dismissed. The puzzle is that LGA 1972 Schedule 12 section 10 states that three days ahead of a meeting a summons signed by the proper officer must be served on members. There is no indication that this doesn't apply regardless of who has convened the meeting. And the clause goes on to say that failure of service on any member of the council does not affect the validity of the meeting. But it isn't clear that failure to even attempt to serve such a notice leaves the meeting valid. For practicality, perhaps one must assume that it does, as this seems the only interpretation that does not leave an insuperable problem. Although a clerk from another parish might be helpful, they do not have any standing and cannot act as proper officer without a council resolution.
+1 vote

For clarity, I'm proposing an answer to my question, asked a long time ago, but now attracting answers and comments.

It's important to read the question carefully. It is specifically about the summons and the requirement that it be signed by the proper officer. This requirement stems from the Local Government Act 1972 Schedule 12, section 10 (2). Item (a) is easily satisfied, being the requirement for a public notice. Item (b) is the problem, as it stipulates that "a summons to attend the meeting, specifying the business proposed to be transacted at the meeting and signed by the proper officer of the council, shall be left at or sent by post to the usual place of residence of every member of the council" (my bold).

There is some leeway granted in 10(3) where it is said that "Want of service of any such summons as is referred to in sub-paragraph (2)(b) above on any member of the parish council concerned shall not affect the validity of the meeting".

Now the question is, just how far does the leeway extend. Reading it suggests that legislators might have had in mind a situation where a summons is lost in the post or a councillor moves home without telling the clerk, or such like mishaps. Maybe it could extend to the clerk forgetting to post all of the summonses. It's not clear that it is intended to cover the case where the proper officer does not sign the summons.

However, legislators doubtless did not intend to leave parish councils in a situation where they are unable to function should the clerk (as the sole proper officer in most cases) cease to be available for whatever reason and without an alternative proper officer having been appointed. That being the case, it seems to me that the answer to the question is that it is acceptable for the summons to be unsigned in the case where there is no proper officer, relying on a liberal interpretation of 10(3). That allows a valid meeting to be called, at which an interim proper officer can be appointed.

It always was a pedantic point, but it was also a puzzle! An alternative to the liberal interpretation of the legislation would be for the standing orders to be extended to cover the situation and to stipulate that the chairman (or failing chairman, then vice chairman, and failing vice chairman the oldest available councillor) is to become proper officer (unpaid) should the usual proper officer be unavailable, purely for the function of signing the summons. This would anticipate and avoid any problem over the signing of the summons.

by (33.0k points)
+1 vote
Who else is here because of the Handforth Parish Council Meeting?
by (160 points)

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