Residents at a Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge Town Council meeting this week booed councillors who voted against proposals that it was claimed would have made council meetings more open to the public.
As we first reported here, Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge Liberal Democrat Councillors put forward a motion at this week’s full Town Council meeting to propose a new way to make council meetings “more relevant” to the public.
It comes after recent changes in procedures that means the minutes of the council’s committee meetings are no longer presented at the main Council meetings.
Cllr Phil Harvey, Leader of the Lib Dem Town Council group, said: “Although this is the correct procedure, in that committee minutes are agreed at the next meeting of the committee not at Council, it means that members of the public are not aware of what has happened unless they actually attended the particular committee meeting or they have looked up the draft minutes online – or it was reported by local media.”
To overcome this difficulty, the Liberal Democrat group proposed adding to the agenda a ‘Chairmen’s report and question time’.
Cllr Harvey added: “The idea is that, if a committee meeting has occurred since the last full Council meeting, the Chairman should give a written report on the committee’s activities and that Councillors should be able to ask questions. We already have reports from the Chairman of the Council and District and County Councillors, so the concept of the Council receiving reports is not new.”
But the proposal was rejected at Monday’s meeting when town councillors voted along party lines. The Lib Dems supported the proposal while Conservative councillors voted against the proposal, prompting cries of “shame on you” from some audience members.
But Cllr Bill Hancock (independent) explained that some of the council’s committee chairmen have full time jobs and would not have enough time to compile reports before meetings, while Cllr Peter Clayton said the Council would do better to improve the Town Council’s website to provide better quality information. He added that committee chairman “have no special powers”.
Cllr Helen Groves said the proposals are “sensible and well thought out” with the aim of “enhancing the public’s understanding of the council’s work… and getting away from inward thinking.”
But Cllr Chris Allen said councillors’ email addresses are on the Town Council website’s making it “easy for the public to raise questions.”
Cllr Mike Murphy said the Town Council “has a duty to be as transparent as we can” and he added that writing a committee report would “not be a big task.” He said: “I support transparency.”
Cllr Louise Parkin said she would support video live-streaming of meetings to make them more visible to the public. She added that many councillors work full time and would not have the time to report committee reports.