PUBLIC BEHAVIOUR AT MEETINGS

0 votes
I often attend PC and DC meetings as an interested expert and it is frustrating that sometimes blatantly wrong information is provided to Councillors. I have previously been publicly castigated by the Chair for having a quiet word in a Councillors "shell like" but have been told it is acceptable to hand written notes. What are the rules on this ?
asked by (360 points)

1 Answer

+1 vote
A council meeting is a meeting of councillors, and members of the public (although entitled to attend) have no right to speak except to the extent specified in the standing orders. Larger councils generally restrict this to a defined period and place time limits. Some smaller councils have adopted a more relaxed approach and permit members of the public to make comments during agenda items. However, the chairman must always maintain control of the meeting. There are no specific statutory rules on the powers of the chairman, but they are more or less absolute. The powers of the chairman derive from common law and the standing orders. Thus, I'm afraid the chair is within their rights to rule that spoken prompts are not allowed. However, I'm sure you should persevere in putting right incorrect claims, by whatever means you can!
answered by (26.1k points)
I attended a recent Planning meeting where a contentious application was being discussed about which the PC had a passing interest. The meeting started with public participation and this got a bit emotional. When the agenda item came along the PC held a fair discussion but when a Cllr put forward a contrary view to the objectors a total of three objectors interrupted the meeting with one shouting particularly personal remarks against the offending Councillor. The chairman failed to intervene and did not suspend standing orders and indeed after the outburst "thanked them for their contribution" no doubt hoping to calm the situation down a bit.. I was then rounded upon by the objectors when I pointed out they were way out of order for interrupting the meeting bearing in mind my previous experiences as above. When the minutes finally appeared they recorded that the meeting had been closed in order to allow the public to speak.  I wrote to the Clerk advised that this record was farcical as it did not record what happened. She has responded that "my comments are noted" and asked "do I need to know anything more". This raises a big point of principle for me i.e. what is the role of the clerk minute taker and can they be  overruled by the Chairman and what can anyone do when the minutes have clearly been "politically doctored"
The minutes must be approved at a council meeting, and it is the responsibility of councillors to ensure that they are accurate. Any errors should be corrected before signing. If the clerk were to repeatedly record meetings inaccurately, that would be a disciplinary matter to be dealt with according to the council's employment policies.
I have learnt the hard way about what residents can do an PC meetings, However, I attended a Planning meeting recently which was dealing with a contentious application and a there were many objectors present with whom I believe the PC had some sympathy.  Public participation took place and then the Council discussed matters. After one Councillor spoke for the application a member of the public interrupted the meeting, shouting and bawling . He was followed by  two more objectors one of whom personally insulted the above Councillor. The Chairman failed to act and when eventually the objectors calmed down she thanked them for their contribution.  Given my previous experiences (and having read the draft minutes) I wrote to the Clerk asking why such an interruption was allowed  she has replied "It is my recollection that the meeting was adjourned as stated in the minutes (rather than Standing Orders being suspended)". While I know this a complete fabrication what is the difference between an adjournment and suspension of standing orders and what formal action should be taken for the former?
The difference is that with a suspension of standing orders the meeting continues to be a council meeting, which gives the chairman authority. An adjournment means that it is no longer a council meeting, but some other less formal meeting, whose rules are uncertain. However, I have never liked the clumsy device of suspending standing orders, which also has the drawback of removing all standing orders, not just those that bar the public from speaking. My strong preference is to revise the standing orders to give the chair authority to permit members of the public to speak at the chair's discretion and subject to the continuing authority of the chair.
Our standing orders appear to indicate that a motion has to be put to adjourn a meeting (and presumably voted upon)  or does the Chairman have superior powers? I incidentally agree with your preferred approach.
Standing orders usually include mention of suspending a standing order under motions that can be put without written notice i.e. at any time. For example "To suspend any standing order except those which are mandatory by law". If you can suspend one, you can suspend the lot. Adjournment is rather more drastic and requires the passing of a motion; only in exceptional circumstances can the chairman adjourn the meeting on their own authority. It's best kept for when a meeting has to be adjourned to another day. Thanks for your agreement :)

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