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Extra-ordinary meetings indeed

Posted on 24th December, 2017

 

It seems that the pantomime (or is it a farce) came early to Bleadon this year with BPC calling three meetings in one month, leading to four resignations offered … oh yes they did ... , oh no they didn't ..., oh yes they did.

 

More information is available but, in summary, we now have: 

5 parish councillors, after

4 resignations offered (Cllrs Hartree, Dobson and Strong & the Clerk), at

3 council meetings, leading to

2 confirmed resignations (Cllr Strong & the Clerk), leaving

1 council in disarray!!

.. not one partridge or a pear tree in sight, although BPC did finally get around to ordering a Xmas tree.

 

Be assured that BOB will continue to ask BPC to be open, honest and transparent in its actions and to ask them publish timely, accurate and accessible documentation to support their decision making process. We'll all have to wait and see what else the New Year brings (apart from the recently agreed 13% increase in BPC precept and who knows, even perhaps a Neighbourhood Plan).

 

Have a great Christmas, Chris & Jo

 

-----

 

BACKGROUND NOTES

 

At the beginning of November Cllr Hartree resigned as Chair (for the second time since his co-option Sept 15), the new Clerk resigned after 7 months (the fourth clerk resignation in three years) and Cllr Dobson offered his resignation (for the second time, after 6 months) (Min 301.26.4). By mid-November Cllr Hartree was again Chair (Min 302., Cllr Dobson had withdrawn his resignation but the Clerk unfortunately stuck to her word and had resigned (Min 302.8). This was all on top of various rumours of discord amongst councilors. By the beginning of December Cllr Strong had resigned (after 8 months) with reference to BPC's secret meetings, bullying and lack of transparency, these comments were not however minuted. (Min 303.6)

 

What is going on?

 

For the best local governance Councillors should be elected by members of the public. This process happens every four years with all BPC councilors up for election in 2019. In the interim BPC councillors can choose who to co-opt onto the council (as seen last month), and can also refuse to accept those that they do not feel would represent residents or compliment their BPC role and views (as seen in previous BPC minutes). Unfortunately, co-option can lead to reduced representation of residents, without diverse views and opinions being discussed or represented (e.g. the exclusion of residents concerns and views via BOB for over a year, until at least Feb 2018).

 

BPC seem unclear on their duties and powers, needing to result to legal advice (Min 301.10) discovering that “The Council cannot request any office holder to vacate office” and that if they submit a vote of no confidence to the Clerk they have “no authority to act” on the proposal. NB Councillors should be elected/not elected by residents via a democratic vote. BPC then proceeded to agree to exclude but then include an amendment to the BPC Standing Orders, perhaps we’ll find out if/when they publicly publish the documentation (Min 302.9). BOB will continue to ask BPC to state and clarify their powers, duties, roles and responsibilities.

 

BPC have informed residents many times that “the only opportunity during the meeting to speak regarding items on the agenda” (Min 296.4) is at the start of the meeting and that “it must be remembered that these are not public meetings, but are meetings which are held in public” (Min 295.2). This means that residents cannot interact with councilors in BPC meetings to clarify information and/or misinformation being discussed. The Chair/councilors can choose at their discretion to “suspend standing orders to allow further public participation” but they can also choose not to allow public discussion/interaction if they do not want to openly discuss a particular issue.

 

Currently BPC seems to be delegating to the closed Management Working Group, which in itself is not a problem except that its Terms of Reference, membership, decision making processes, etc. are undeclared and unminuted. This means that residents do not know who is influencing the decision making processes, when or how e.g. the undeclared projects (Min 301.14) including the Neighbourhood Plan.

 

NB Government guidance states "The relationship between any group and the formal functions of the town or parish council should be transparent to the wider public ... The terms of reference for a steering group or other body should be published and the minutes of meetings made available to the public". From recent minutes it's not clear whether we now have a Steering Group and another Working Group, none of these groups have published Terms of Reference or membership e.g. whether the influtential groups contain householders, landowners, developers, etc.

 

Also, rather than holding announced two-way public discussion meetings BPC seem to be using the village market as a means of unannounced consultation with residents, as indicated by councilors referring to Road Safety on the A370 (Min 302.8) and the Neighbourhood Plan. “A Parishioner [not BOB] asked which meeting a request to discuss the Neighbourhood Plan in the public session should be addressed. The Chairman highlighted it should be addressed to the Planning Committee Meeting Agenda” (Min 302.7). The day after submitting the request BPC informed the resident that it had cancelled the Monday Planning sub-committee meeting “due to the lack of planning applications to be considered”, with no further planning date announced. Why is a Neighbourhood Development Plan discussion subordinate/dependent upon ad hoc developer’s application to NSC?

 

BPC's preference for a closed and unminuted approach to their public duties was again confirmed in Cllr Strong's resignation statement with her reference to BPC's secret meetings, bullying and lack of transparency (these comments were not however minuted).

 

Hopefully the pantomime will finish at the end of the Christmas season but be assured that BOB will continue to ask BPC to be open, honest and transparent in its actions and to ask them publish timely, accurate and accessible documentation to support their decision making process.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BELOW is BOB and BPC email correspondence regarding Cllr. Strong public resignation statement and Cllr. Chinn reponse, consequently BPC decision of 14 February 2018 was to extend their 'Vexatious Policy' against BOB for a further year. See here.

 

From: Parish Clerk <parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.co.uk>
Sent: 13 February 2018 15:58
To: 'Bleadon BOB Community Website'
Subject: RE: Publicly available response
 

Dear Mr Butler

 

Thank you for your email, the contents of which are noted.

 

I will be writing to you shortly.

 

Kind regards

Marian Barber

Parish Clerk

Bleadon Parish Council

Coronation Hall

Coronation Road

Bleadon

BS24 0PG

 

Email:  parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.co.uk

 

Tel: 07453 358 318

 

Website: www.bleadonparishcouncil.co.uk

 

This e-mail and any files transmitted with it are intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. It may contain unclassified but sensitive or protectively marked material and should be handled accordingly. Unless you are the named addressee (or authorised to receive it for the addressee) you may not copy or use it, or disclose it to anyone else. If you have received this transmission in error please notify the sender immediately.

 

From: Bleadon BOB Community Website [mailto:bleadon@live.co.uk] 
Sent: 13 February 2018 03:51
To: Bleadon Parish Clerk
Subject: Re: Publicly available response

Dear [BPC Interim Clerk],

 

Apologies for my delay in reply due to other circumstances but many belated thanks, a very interesting response considering BPC's approach to access to information over the last few years, hopefully access to crucial decision making information will now finally be accessible.

 

Please can you therefore send us, or point us to the place on the BPC website where all the Terms of Reference, Membership, Agenda and Minutes for all the working group meetings and sub-committees can be found, including those referred to by Cllr Chinn?

 

You may recall all the Parish Plan working and steering groups documentation was originally hosted on the BPC website (quite rightly), so it follows that residents would expect to also see similar documentation for ALL BPC working groups, that by Cllr. Chinn's statement, seem to clearly influence and steer BPC full council's decisions for the strategic direction, resourcing and finance of Bleadon. 

 

For example, as far as we are aware there is no publicly accessible information on the Council's proposed Neighbourhood (Development) Plan despite being asked several times in June/July 2017 when the BPC project started. We have previously asked for ALL information on the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group and Management Working Group(s) to be made available to the public from their inception, not just that produced from now onwards. This is particularly important as BPC's consultation strategy seems based on presumption that all of the Bleadon electorate (1000+ residents) attend the market, a local social interest group and/or BPC meeting (where the average attendance is less than 10 residents) which is clearly false. It has been noted that the whole of Bleadon Parish was asked about a Parish Plan, yet the NDP process appears to only be asking a subset of residents, why? BPC ultimately, incorrectly and inappropriately ignored the adopted Parish Plan and so many residents became disengaged; the secretive BPC approach to communication as voiced by Cllr Strong to date has not improved the situation, has not been inclusive and is not democratic.

 

People with extensive government experience, including us, know that public representatives should act in a fully open, honest and transparent manner in relation to their decision making and that also includes the parties involved in that decision making process, especially if they want public support. Unfortunately despite BPC stating that information is available, our requests for resident access to it have been deemed vexatious for over a year and ultimately the public still have had no access or information.

 

With this current BPC statement in mind we therefore look forward to this situation being rectified and prompt access to the documentation and information given accordingly to all via the BPC website. As recommended for ALL Parish Councils by the Information Commissioners Office 'Model Publication Scheme'.

 

Kind regards,
Chris Butler
twitter: @bleadon
facebook: BleadonBOB

 


From: Parish Clerk <parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.co.uk>

Sent: 24 January 2018 09:39

To: 'Bleadon BOB Community Website'

Subject: RE: Publicly available response

 

This is the statement made by Cllr Chinn at the last meeting.

 

Comments were made at the Parish Council meeting in December 2017 that require a response.

 

The comments related to:

 

Meetings

 

Decision making

 

Failure to utilise the local knowledge of long standing Councillors

 

The operation of the Council is not transparent to the public

 

Bleadon Parish Council holds regular public monthly meetings. Parish Council Committees also meet on a less regular basis. All meetings are subject to the setting of an Agenda which is publicised on the Council website, noticeboards and some village social media, in advance of the meeting. “The Parish Council welcomes and encourages public participation during a part of the meeting specified for that purpose. In order for the Parish Council to provide a full response where appropriate, a member of the public may only speak if prior notification has been given to the Clerk by noon on the Friday preceding the meeting. However, the Chairman has discretion to allow members of the public to speak without prior notification, if felt appropriate”.

 

This invitation is printed on all Agendas so that members of the public know ahead of the meeting how to bring questions. It is my experience, that the Chairman always allows discretion at each meeting to allow questions not previously notified. Furthermore, the Chairman frequently allows for a suspension of standing orders to allow for public comment and participation after the public session has ceased. Members of the public have a time limit to speak during the allotted section of the meeting of three minutes. Again, the Chairman is usually happy to allow more time than standing orders permits. This is in the interest of public inclusion and participation.

 

The meetings are all minuted and these minutes made available to the public for them to see what has been on the Agenda, discussed and agreed upon. The public can view the Minutes on the Council website or request a copy by email or mail. 

 

There are some areas of Parish Council business that are not open to the public at meetings. They form part of the agenda. Examples of such business are:

 

Discussions connected with employees of the Parish Council. Discussions connected with Confidential matters.

 

Councillors do meet outside of public meetings to work on specific projects or matters affecting the Parish, District and National matters, either in pairs or larger groups. They report back to committees or full Parish Council. Such meetings can involve just Councillors, members of the public, local businesses and professional advisors. Any recommendations that require Parish Council or committee decisions are taken back to those bodies.

 

Some examples are:

 

A group which meets with management representatives of a local business - Marshalls, Bridge Road, Bleadon. The review of  planning applications and to make some site visits ahead of planning committee or full Council meetings. To review publicly available consultation documentation upon which the Parish Council has been required to comment. Working groups to research subjects and to bring recommendations and proposals to committees or full Council meetings. E.g Neighbourhood Plan Attending advisory sessions arranged by the District Council or ALCA to provide training, specialist knowledge and briefings. Councillors then bring that information to committee and full Council meetings to advise before any decisions are made. These Committee and full Council meetings are publicly advertised, publicly open and minuted. Visits by Councillors who attend locations for fact finding and inspections. Examples include Access to footpaths and conditions of gates, stiles or stairways. Verification of unauthorised planning activity in support of referral to the relevant authority.  General reporting of matters affecting the Parish which come under the responsibility of other agencies or District Council departments. Confidential meetings – Examples can include a) short listing of job applicants; b) Councillor or Staff welfare or personal matters. Councillors can be pre-authorised by decisions made by full Council when attending meetings An example would include site visits at the Church Yard when work was needed on the crumbling wall.

 

In respect or taking into consideration Councillor’s  local knowledge, there are currently  two eminent Parish Council members who have many years living and working in the village. The remaining Councillors may have limited time as residents in the Parish but they have come forward in answer to public appeals of assistance to help as Parish Councillors. When decisions are made at Committee or full Council meetings, all Councillors present at the meetings provide guidance and points of view irrespective of their background. Members of the public also contribute either directly to Parish Clerk or Councillors before or at the meetings. All views are taken into consideration when decisions are made.

 

The Parish Council does acknowledge that the website should have better content. This would assist in improving the public view that more information should be made available.

 

The Parish Council also provides information during the year in a free magazine called the Village News. This media also has contribution from parishioners, local groups and businesses.

 

The Parish Council should have an operating strength of nine Councillors, in order to carry out the work needed by the Parish. Currently there are only five. This means that the Councillors have to undertake a greater responsibility each to try and keep on top of Council business. We do our very best under difficult pressures. We seek to become knowledgeable in the various aspects that affect the community and Parish. We do take into consideration advice and comments from Parishioners and groups that meet in the village and other agencies such as Police, District and neighbouring Parish Councils. Councillors have regularly attended the monthly village market to canvass views and pass on information.

 

During the course of each month Councillors make contact by email, telephone and personal visits in pursuit of these activities. The Chairman Steve Hartree reminds us that such contact is acceptable but that any decision making will be made by committee or full Parish Council. The Chairman has extensive experience in local Government and is the best person currently to lead the Parish Council. He is devoted to the Parish. He has my full support.

 

Regards

 

Interim Parish Clerk

Bleadon Parish Council

Coronation Hall

Coronation Road

Bleadon

BS24 0PG

 

Email:  parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.co.uk

 

Tel: 07453 358 318

 

Website: www.bleadonparishcouncil.co.uk

 

This e-mail and any files transmitted with it are intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. It may contain unclassified but sensitive or protectively marked material and should be handled accordingly. Unless you are the named addressee (or authorised to receive it for the addressee) you may not copy or use it, or disclose it to anyone else. If you have received this transmission in error please notify the sender immediately.

 

From: Bleadon BOB Community Website [mailto:bleadon@live.co.uk] 

Sent: 23 January 2018 19:24

To: parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.co.uk

Subject: Publicly available response

 

Hi [BPC Interim Clerk],

 

As per the BPC January minute 304.6, please can you send me a copy of the publicly available response given by Cllr Chinn to Cllr Strong's resignation statements.

 

Kind regards,

 

Chris Butler

twitter: @bleadon

facebook: BleadonBOB

 

 

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