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Councillor's "discussion" on email prior to meeting approved at Parish Council meeting

0 votes
Hello,
As a parishioner I have attended several parish council meetings in the last few months and come away frustrated that the agenda item(s) that I wanted to hear discussion on had been dealt with by email before the meeting.  The outcome of this email process was then approved without the public being made aware of what had been discussed and decided.  At one of these meetings this method of dealing with the matter was questioned by a Councillor who was told by the Chairman that this was a more efficient way of dealing due to a shortage of time.  As each of the items that had been “dealt with by email” were controversial planning matters in the village it appears to me that they were being swept under the carpet.  This was further reinforced when one of these items was followed by a 10 mins discussion on the cost of signage about dog control!

The process by which the chairman “discussed” these matters on email was, I understand, on receipt of the agenda to email the other Councillors asking for comments on the particular matter by the lunchtime of day of the meeting.  In each case he set out his own thoughts and then in the Council meeting proposed that as he had not received any other responses that his view would stand for that of the Council.  There was no space for discussion or debate in a public forum which I had understood was the purpose of Parish Council meetings.

I am curious as to what these opinions are that can only be shared on email and not in public and understand that a Freedom of Information request should make the emails available to me.  However, is this an appropriate and legal way to be conducting Parish business.  If not, how should I address this?  And to whom?  I look forward to any thoughts you may have.

Thank you.
asked by (120 points)

1 Answer

0 votes
There seem to be issues on two levels here.

First, a council cannot make a decision except in a properly constituted meeting, by a vote of those present. The business to be discussed must be clearly described in the agenda. It must be clear what the council is deciding, so it cannot be right to decide something whose wording only exists in documents not put before the meeting. Supporting documents for a meeting should be made public along with the agenda, and if not made public would certainly be open to a Freedom of Information request. Decisions must be recorded in the minutes, and only decisions that are recorded in the minutes can be deemed valid decisions. Citizens have a statutory right to inspect minutes. The minutes must be clear about what has been decided.

Second, there could well be an argument for obtaining the emails under a FoI request, as you suggest. It is plain from past statements by the Commissioner that emails in a "private" account can be subject to FoI requests, where they are part of the documentation for a public authority. With limited exceptions, council meetings must be held in public. If email discussion is taking the place of discussion at a meeting, I would think there is a strong argument that FoI applies to the emails.

Really, I think the council should not proceed in the way described. Most councils do not do this. Good luck in mounting a challenge by all means possible!
answered by (27.6k points)

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