Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Pitfalls of a Council's Constitution.

We have heard a lot about proceedings at Carmarthenshire County Council by Y Cneifiwr and Caebrwyn and how senior officers and the ruling administration use them quite effectively to limit what can be discussed. A council's constitution is full of such 'blocking devices,' as I found out at a full meeting on Wrecsam Council last Monday night.

I had submitted a motion to the Full Council nearly two weeks before calling for a certain Standing Order of the Council to be changed, suspended or deleted, this would have allowed broadcasting and transmitting in council meetings or in particular an effort to legalise the use of Twitter. Both myself and several journalists had fallen foul of this particular Standing Order by tweeting from council meetings and had led to the new look Daily Post mounting an openness and transparency campaign  It was therefore all very timely to bring a motion to help that campaign along.

All was hunky dory up to the night of the meeting when an amendment to our motion was name or party had signed the motion and no one seemed to know who had written it (including members of the ruling coalition!). The amendment although a step in the right direction was a little more than a 'fudge' but at least it promised a report to the May AGM...I think they said May 2013! I subsequently moved the motion followed by a short speech outlining how silly a prohibition on social media was in this day and age.

Once the motion had been moved and seconded up popped Labour Councillor Malcolm King the Lead Member for Corporate Governance who apparently was the owner of the amendment. Instead of proposing his amendment Councillor King, went on to call on the council's legal officer to comment on the motion. What happened next was that my motion was ruled out because it contravened another Standing Order.
This Standing Order said that any motion to change or delete a Standing Order moved by anyone other than the Executive or a Committee could not be considered at the meeting in which it was moved; so my motion would have to have been heard in the next Full Council. But no, none of that; Councillor King moved his amendment, seconded by the Council Leader Neil Rogers (obviously taking my motion rather seriously!).
A number of speakers (from the administration and the Lib Dems) then spoke against my motion, before I was invited to sum up. Knowing which way the wind was blowing and that a step in the right direction was better than nothing I withdrew my motion under protest and agreed to support the amendment which was passed unanimously.

Since the meeting I have had time to reflect on what went on (it was quite surreal at the time) and have asked myself two questions, one, why was I not told in the nearly two weeks between submission and debate that the motion was not correct or acceptable. Secondly, how can one accept an amendment to a motion which does not comply with Standing Orders? And further how can a vote be allowed, surely what went on is wrong in law!

I don't know the answers to the questions at the moment, I will have to await my meeting with the Chief Executive.

1 comment:

glynbeddau said...

How can you amend a motion that it is not put?

I always thought you voted on the amendment and then, if was passed on the amended Motion Or the original motion if it failed.

If you can't put the original motion you can't put the amendment surely?