Every April our council agrees and publishes a full calendar of the scheduled list with dates and times of the coming year's ordinary parish council meetings. That list is available online and the village noticeboards.
At our June full council meeting it was agreed: 06.22.17 The date of the next Ordinary Parish Council meeting will take place on Thursday, 21st July, 2022 at 19:00 at the village hall.
So I was astonished and deeply concerned to receive out of the blue two days ago (7 July), with no prior warning or consultation, an email from our Clerk, who lives a few miles from our village, stating:
"Dear Councillors, please be advised that the date for the next Ordinary Parish Council meeting has been brought forward to Thursday, 14th July, 2022.
The reason is due to an unexpected change in travel arrangements for me.
I am aware that bringing the date forward will be welcomed by a number of councillors and please accept my apologies if it causes any inconvenience for you."
I felt the email was extraordinary as I, an elected councillor, had not been informed about any problem with our next scheduled meeting to be held on 21 July, and I was perplexed by the apparent tacit agreement of other members who 'will welcome a change of date'.
Who these members are and how/when they were canvassed for their opinions by the Clerk outside of a convened meeting is a mystery.
I and another councillor were not contacted or canvassed in advance or since receiving the Clerk's email, and were therefore unaware of any intended or potential change of the agreed meeting date.
The Clerk's email seemed to be the final word on the matter - the change of date was a fait a compli. And so it is as today the Clerk has now issued an agenda and supporting docs for a meeting to be held on 14 July.
That means that councillors have been denied the opportunity to submit agenda items in advance of the new meeting as resolved at our last council meeting: 06.22.16 Items to be placed on the next Agenda The appointment of the internal auditor for 2022-23... Any other items should be emailed to the clerk no later than Tuesday, 12th July 2022.
I consider that this situation is unacceptable, as the decision made and the action undertaken do not appear to follow due process.
The vice chairman tells me it wasn't made clear to him that it was the Clerk's inability to attend the scheduled meeting that had led to them cancelling it and bringing the date forward by a week for a 'new' meeting to be held on 14 July. The VC claims that he was told in a separate and different email by the Clerk that the change was being made for quorate reasons, nothing to do with the Clerk's inability to attend, so it had to be brought forward by a week. That does not appear to be the case, as the VC, I and a third councillor have confirmed that we can attend the meeting scheduled for 21 July, as resolved at our June meeting - so the meeting on 21st would be certainly be quorate.
Can a Clerk really decide to cancel a scheduled council meeting, and change the resolved and published date of the next parish council monthly meeting off their own bat because they are not able to attend the original agreed meeting? It seems very high-handed and arrogant, as council meetings can be legally held without a Clerk being in attendance. Indeed, recently our council has held meetings which the Clerk was not able to attend - but a locum stood in for their place - due to our Clerk being absent on leave.
The Clerk claims in answer to a query from me that: "The reason for the change of date is due to a change in (the Clerk's) travel arrangements.... In consultation with Chairman, the change of date of the meeting of the Ordinary Parish Council has been agreed."
I don't think that is a good enough. I contend that the chairman cannot make decisions about council business outside convened council meetings, especially instructing the Clerk to overturn a resolution on an agenda item made by councillors present and voting at the previous meeting.
I think that if a Clerk cannot attend a meeting for any reason, that does not require a complete change in the date of the council meeting, as the Clerk can be replaced, but members of the council are summoned to attend scheduled meetings to make decisions on behalf of their electors, and members of the public also need to be made aware of the proper date of council meetings so they can attend and participate.
Can anything be done to reinstate the original scheduled date to give councillors the opportunity to submit items on the agenda for that meeting?