13 January 2010

Somerton Town Council meeting, 12th January 2010

The meeting was chaired initially by Tim Carroll who brought the meeting to order and took everyone through apologies (from our District Councillors) and into the main business of the day - the election of a a Chair and Vice-Chair. Candidates for Chair were: Cllr Margaret Chambers; Cllr Fraser-Hopewell and Cllr Barrie Davis and, on a ballot, the candidates attracted 4, 7 and 4 votes respectively and Cllr Fraser-Hopewell duly took the Chair of the Council. The candidates for Vice Chair were: Cllr Barrie Davis; Cllr Nancy Langmaid and Cllr Patt Bennett. On the ballot the candidates attracted 4, 4 and 7 votes respectively and Cllr Bennett was duly elected Vice Chair.

Cllr Fraser-Hopewell made a brief speech about the way that the Chair would be handled under the new Council. The position is to be rotated twice between now and the next election (May of 2011) which will give three councillors the opportunity to experience Chairing the Council thereby spreading experience through the membership. This proposal was greeted enthusiastically.

Public Q's brought a request from John Watts that the Town Council set up an informative and interactive website. John Campion made a request for detailed information regarding the cost of Edgar Hall. Peter Spearman requested that the layout of the Council seating arrangements be opened up to make the Council face the audience. Carol Redell spoke on the need for a panel to be set up to air substantial planning application and to ensure that such applications are fully consulted. Ian Parry requested information about the cost of putting names on the War Memorial. Mr Porch asked if the new Council might introduce themselves and say a little bit about themselves and their ambitions. Cllr Fraser-Hopewell took the suggestion head on and gave the members the opportunity to 'meet their public'. It was heartening to hear that almost every member of this new Council seems to be concerned to hear what the community are saying and to represent the views of the community.

There was a further question about gritting which triggered a discussion about whose responsibility was the gritting (SCC) and how the community could help itself. Cllr Neale referred to volunteers being involved already and Peter Spearman suggested a loose network of volunteers to develop this effort.

Declaration of Interests brought declarations from Cllr Paul Austin, Cllr Nancy Langmaid and Cllr David Harrison and this was followed by a brief discussion led by Cllr Barrie Davis on the issue of the nature of 'Member's Interests' and it was a very informative discussion. The point at issue was to explain what constituted a 'Prejudicial Interest' which could be further defined as being an interest of 'predisposition' or an interest of 'predeterminantion'. As I understood the discussion, a predjudicial interest is where a member may have a connection with or a direct interest in an issue under discussion. But there is also a prejudicial interest where a member may have already stated a public view upon an issue ie a predisposition to vote in a particular way or a predetermination ie a decision already made. It was made clear by Tim Carrol that a member who has already stated a view upon an issue must bar themselves from voting upon that issue. A very interesting and informative discussion indeed which I understood to mean that only members coming to an issue with an entirely open mind can vote upon that issue.

The Meeting moved on to discuss the Minutes of the previous meeting and under this item a number of members sought corrections. Members of the Public, notably Barry Markham, drew attention to the failings and inaccuracies of previous Minutes. The Draft Minutes may then have been approved.

The Council moved on the discuss the Precept (that chunk of taxpayer's money that the Council gets to spend) and it was immediately clear that the Council as a whole were uncomfortable in setting a Precept whilst they were still grappling with the Council's accounts. It was proposed that the Council defer setting a precept until the next meeting and the Council further agreed to have an interim meeting where Members would meet and discuss in detail the Precept and the costs that make it up.

The Council then moved on to discussion of the Freedom of Information complaints. It was noted that the Council now faced one Decision Notice with another due imminently, both upholding complaints against the Council. The general view of the Council was that there was no reason that Public Information should be witheld from any member of the public and it was moved that all information subject to all requests made by Niall Connolly be made immediately available. The method of making the material available was discussed and the Chair proposed that a dialogue be initiated between Niall Connolly, a group of councillors and the Town Clerk in order to agree the best way to make the information available.

And at that juncture, dear readers, your scribe left the meeting to consider exactly what had been the point of the charade that had seen Somerton Town Council deny public access to public information for 9 months (23 months if you add in letters written to the Council in 2008 which never received a reply). To describe it as pointless really doesn't explain it.

For information about the rest of the meeting you will have to search other sources but I will be publishing the results of my researches into Somerton Town Council's Public Documents at a later date and I hope that they will be as interesting and informative as I believe them to be.

Till next time, I am Niall Connolly