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THE POWER OF THE CLERK?

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Last night I attended a PC meeting as a resident i.e. before my re-election is actioned which is a few weeks away. I spoke under public participation but was instructed at the meeting that I had to formally agree with the clerk before the meeting what I wanted to discuss.  I responded that I had agreed with the clerk that I wished to speak but I believed it was the role of the Chairman alone on the night to intervene and direct me . Am I right?. However   I have this morning rec'd this E mail from the Chairman about his recent attendance at a NALC Good Councillors course . In part it  reads

One of the new councillors, a very experienced person made the following comment after understanding the rules of a PC, which I hope may inform you as to our hierarchy:

 

 

There is partial inversion of some of the powers and responsibilities. In charities and commerce, the secretary is the servant of the committee. In Parish Councils the Clerk has far more power. For instance the Clerk sets the agenda with Councillors requesting items be added. Compare that with a Charity where a trustee can demand an item be added as a right. The Church of England goes even further in that a PCC member can ask for an item to go on and it has to go on the next agenda; there is no permitted discretion by the secretary or chair, though that would obviously not preclude some negotiation. Also compared with companies and charities, the powers and influence of the Chair are watered down, whereas those of the Clerk are beefed up. 

Could readers please discuss .  This to me is NALC/SLCC chipping away at the PC system.   I understand  that the clerk sets the agenda but can she say countermand the Chairman's wishes and is public participation formally regarded as part of the meeting under the clerks control. Oh what tangled webs. 

by (2.2k points)

2 Answers

0 votes
The clerk is an employee of the council and there to advise on matters when requested ( usually via the chair. The clerk has no right to intervene in any meeting and must make advisements on matters via the chair . The chair is in charge of the meeting and their decisions on matters arising are final. That is not to say that if their decision is incorrect it cannot be challenged at a later date.

If public participation is on the agenda then it will take place. It is contrary to the councils code of conduct to attempt to edit or control what the public say and should a member of the public "get out of order" then it is the chair's job to control the meeting up to removal of the person or closing of the meeting.

It would appear your clerk wishes to act as some sort of censor on what people say ( wonder why?). It is always good to give a written question before hand for councillors so that you can get a quick response as opposed to " we will get back to you on that!"

Your comments regarding NALC may be very close to the truth.
by (13.9k points)
This to me is a fundamental discussion. So a couple more questions. Is it a legal requirement/right  that the Clerk actually constructs the agenda? I understand that she/he issues the summons but where is it defined that she has the final say on agenda construction ?  Secondly is public participation an actual  public right and is it strictly part of the meeting proper. Or is it a privilege extended by the PC under its standing orders?
In the "old days" pre box ticking and conformity to regulations for bureaucracy's sake the production of the agenda was a team effort between councillors, chair and clerk with the clerk advising on procedure and legal requirement and the chair presenting the practicalities of passing the business required for operation of the councils programmes.
Unfortunately somewhere along the line we have lost the desire to serve and now worship at the alter of "the system" and too many "organisations see kudos in their interference rather than support
The only right for public to be heard is at a Parish meeting of which the PC must call a minimum of one per year. Of course many see this as an inconvenience having to associate with the great unwashed but of course the public can call as many Parish meetings as they wish which is why PC's pay lip service to allowing a controlled "public" section in the agenda.
There is a legal right for the  public to attend parish council meetings but no legal right to speak although it is considered good practice to allow this.  The public "rights" come through questioning actions via the auditors when the accounts are audited each year and those "rights" associated with things like subject access requests (under Data Protection legislation) or the Freedom of Information Act which confers the right to request information but not necessarily demand action on the part of the parish council.
Unfortunately D is used to override A, B and C so the whole thing is meaningless
Why are Councils so afraid of the people who’s interests they are supposed to serving speaking at a meeting?
0 votes

Well, NALC/SLCC do suggest putting the Proper Officer in charge of the agenda, but these requirements cane be altered if the Council adopts alternative Standing Orders:

"a The Proper Officer may, before including a motion on the agenda received in accordance with standing order 9(b), correct obvious grammatical or typographical errors in the wording of the motion.

b  If the Proper Officer considers the wording of a motion received in accordance with standing order 9(b) is not clear in meaning, the motion shall be rejected until the mover of the motion resubmits it, so that it can be understood, in writing, to the Proper Officer at least (   ) clear days before the meeting.

c  If the wording or subject of a proposed motion is considered improper, the Proper Officer shall consult with the chairman of the forthcoming meeting or, as the case may be, the councillors who have convened the meeting, to consider whether the motion shall be included in the agenda or rejected.

The decision of the Proper Officer as to whether or not to include the motion on the agenda shall be final."

Public contributions are not formally part of the meeting (not under Standing Orders) so care must be taken to limit debate to a brief discussion of the issue raised and a direct answer if this is possible. The Chair, not the Clerk, is in control.

by (960 points)
edited by
It seems to me that if the clerk has the title of proper officer , then Agenda setting is the responsibility of the that post. However, what does “responsibility” mean? Does it mean being responsible for bringing it together with input from others or does it mean the clerk has total control over its contents ? Most standing orders seem to define a specific responsibility as it relates to motions but not other agenda content. It seems to me that if the proper officer has total control this can be counter productive and open to abuse i.e. not in the best interests of the public.
Clearly the view of many Councillors is that the Council itself should have the ultimate control over what it debates whereas custom and practice in many PCs allows the Clerk to lead.

In my opinion the role of clerk is such matters needs updating and I have written to the relevant Government Dept for comment.  All IMHO
Open spaces 100% in agreement with your summation. The clerk is there to facilitate the wishes of the council not run the council. This includes bringing well versed advice and guidance to the table. By definition the agenda must be a joint production by the clerk and the chair as the chair has overall responsibility for the meeting and cannot do their job if they are presented with an agenda produced  by someone else without insight of the objectives to be met by the meeting.
As usual I agree with Mentorman
It’s my experience that a lot of Clerks filter out requests from Parishioner’s and initiatives from third parties
I’ve seen cases where Clerks have made arbitrarily decisions about quite important matters without “bothering” the Councillors who are blissfully unaware of what’s happened

Also binding contracts and agreements are being entered into without Councillors being given the chance to see them
At the end of the day Councillors are elected to represent the residents interests, the Clerk is there to support that aim
Words fail me I have just read the forthcoming meeting agenda and I do not recognise if I am in the same town.
Keep chipping away at it.  Its a long process.

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