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Unacceptable Behaviour at Meetings

0 votes
This is a question specifically for the experienced Clerks on the forum.

As a Clerk, I have always adopted the approach that we shouldn't speak until spoken to.  We are there to provide information, advice and guidance as and when required, not to take over and run the meeting.

At a recent meeting, one member of the council made sexist, racist and homophobic comments that went unchallenged by the Chairman and the other members.  Indeed, the mood of the meeting seemed largely supportive of the sentiments expressed.  I was appalled, but said nothing.  Should I have intervened, not necessarily from the clerkship point of view, but based on acceptable standards of human decency?  I spoke to both the Chairman and the member after the meeting, but it was clear that they didn't see it as an issue.

Could I have handled it better?
asked by (26.3k points)

2 Answers

+2 votes
Best answer
I agree that as a Clerk you are not there to voice an opinion and should allow democracy to take it course through debate between the elected members of the council.  If there is something that I can add on a factual basis, or to correct an inaccuracy, I will ask the Chair if I can speak and will act as the 'professional advisor' as such.

That said, if any councillor or member of the public spoke to me in a derogatory, demeaning or offensive manner, I would speak up as a citizen with the right not to be abused.  Its a tough one - if you were offended, you should perhaps have said something as others may have been equally offended but not have the courage to say.  Councillors have a code of conduct (for what its worth) that they should follow and that includes the obligation to behave appropriately and with respect to others.

My personal pet peeve is the presumption that people think that they can be rude / offensive as much as they like when they add the caveat "I don't mean to be rude but...." or "that's just how I am - I speak my mind..."  It makes my blood boil as there is no excuse for rudeness.

To conclude, its a fine line for a Clerk to not dominate (some do) and to not act like a doormat.  I would have said something in this instance with the reason being in order to protect the Council from potential complaints from the public in the future.
answered by (13.3k points)
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Thank you, that's very helpful.
The unpleasant diatribe wasn't directed at me, or even at another identifiable individual, as it related to "the type of people we do and don't want in our village".  It came out of the blue and was so unexpected that I was lost for words and in all likelihood, others were too.

Some councillors seem to be under the impression that they have a parliamentary privilege during meetings.  The postscript to all of this is that those involved have just announced their intention to seek re-election in May and with no public interest in the affairs of the council, they're more or less over the line already.
Ah, perhaps then you might want to suggest that the meetings are recorded under the excuse that it will help with the minute writing.  Of course, if a member of the public wanted to hear the recordings and the behaviour displayed by the councillors, they would be perfectly in their rights to...………..  might help change some behaviour traits that are being displayed...
Hmmm.  Devious.  I like it!
0 votes
As Proper Officer you should bring it up at the next meeting, or earlier opportunity at the meeting itself through the Chair, if you feel the law is being breached. Back to ethical standards in Local Government and codes of conduct!
answered by (2.6k points)

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