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A baying mob ...

Wednesday, 23 July 2014 4 Comments by Claire

... Was how someone described to me how tonight’s EDDC full council meeting felt for them, as an observer.

I won’t write a full post now, however, I will say that amid much loud jeering and unpleasantness by the tories, Cllr Ray Bloxham levelled a false allegation against me relating to this blog and that I was not given an opportunity to demand that he retract it, as the chief executive prevented the chairman from allowing me to speak.

I will be contacting Cllr Bloxham to ask him to retract it. He does know what he said was untrue as there have been discussions at senior officer level about it.

Public speaking restrictions voted through
The main news of the evening is that the public speaking restrictions at planning committee meetings were voted through. I called the minute so that we could have a debate and we did have one and interestingly there was a very mixed reaction to the proposals, with several conservatives expressing their reservations, as well as opposition councillors.

The usual criticisms were made of me (by some conservative councillors) that I didn’t attend the cabinet meeting to give my views, even though I had spoken against the restrictions at the previous full council - and the overview and scrutiny committee in May.

Having exhausted every other option, this evening I proposed that the public speaking restrictions be deferred by one year, to allow for the local plan to be in place. My request for a recorded vote got through by one vote, which means that the minutes will show how each councillor voted, but my proposal for deferral was voted down by 29 votes to 16, with four abstentions.

Cllr Susie Bond was a total trouper, asking difficult questions about the police investigation into former councillor Graham Brown, undeterred when some tories tried to make her feel that she shouldn’t be asking such things.

Going back to the baying mob, my thanks go to llibdem Cllr Doug Hull who suggested that the conservatives might like to have more dignity, than to heckle me with their “rude words.”

And independents, Cllr Trevor Cope and Ben Ingham were their usual ebullient selves, giving some hard-hitting speeches and asking some uncomfortable questions.

Here’s my speech about what I see as the council’s worrying move in the opposite direction of democracy, that was peppered with loud jeering and heckling…. I should say that the speech is broadly the same as the one I gave, as I did make some minor changes to it, once I got to the meeting…

This council’s reputation is in the wilderness.

In May a new restriction on motions was voted through by the majority party. Meaning that many motions will now first be referred to a committee for officer guidance, if they are not immediately relevant to the business of the council.

In the same month, the chief executive acquired new authority to change the wording of motions so that they are “complaint with the council’s legal and administrative powers.”

Earlier this year public speaking rights were restricted so that if a member of the public would like to make a comment about an item not on a cttee agenda they have to register two days in advance to do so.

This evening new and draconian public speaking measures have been introduced to significantly limit public participation on planning applications – exactly at the time when the East Devon countryside is under more threat than ever before – and more people are more worried than ever before.  Ottery eg is set to grow by about one quarter in just a few years.

The local plan still seems to be under the cloud of a planning consultant former councillor, who chaired the ldf panel during 2009/10 - and a campaign group called Communities Before Developers had to push hard for the release of those minutes – refused under FOI but eventually made public under the Env Regs Act ….

Council is furiously asset stripping – and selling off important community buildings, such as Elizabeth Hall, contrary to the wishes of thousands of people. Views just dismissed as though they are worth nothing. 

Campaign groups have cropped up like mushrooms – there is almost one in each town and plenty of active residents in villages, all angry at their views either being steamrollered, ignored or belittled.

Strenuous attempts to look into the influence of EDBF on this council, esp planning matters, have been thwarted at every turn. A democratically established taff was effectively closed down as a result of cllrs trying to find out more about EDBF’s influence.

There is a perception that some outspoken opposition and minority councillors are being singled-out for politically motivated standards investigations. So far three have been investigated and two (one libdem cllr – investigated twice!) councillors have been hauled before the standards committee for sanctions. 

The record on transparency over the office relocation is breathtaking. Almost all the decisions, including on spending huge sums of money – have been taken behind closed doors by the conservative cabinet. 

A very reasonable request by a Sidmouth resident has resulted in the Info Commissioner insisting that this council releases the Knowle building survey that council relies on to justify its office move - on the grounds that the Knowle is falling down.

Not only do we refuse to release the survey under FOI …. We have sent the Info Commissioner off with a flea in its ear!  Which is now resulting in a costly public hearing which will take place next month at Heavitree magistrates courts.

Residents shake their heads in disbelief on the streets about it!

Cllr Bloxham’s paper on a task and finish forum – final straw – the main thrust of paper seems to be further restrictions on free speech and democracy! 

Been to one meeting, but not discussed the controversial areas.  Suggestions to:
- abolish supplementary questions!

- divert early policy discussions at committees for full council for a steer … so that 42 conservatives can use their voting power to squash anything embarrassing??

- greater powers for the chairman, including the ability to curtail debate more easily

Looks bad!  Esp when seen in context of general direction of council. 

If measures agreed, local people will once again be the losers as their elected reps will be prevented from properly doing their jobs.
Rather than seeking to curtail and squash debate, council should be moving in opposite direction. MORE public involvement. Greater respect for public opinion.

Until council grasps how important this is, will be in political wilderness.

MUST bring the issue of democracy and transparency to scrutiny cttee at earliest opportunity.

September meeting. Need to properly examine the direction that this council is taking. Half the district or more is angry for these reasons. OSC needs to take this on board and decide what action needs to be taken….

Here are the reflections from East Devon Alliance chair, Paul Arnott, who was also at tonight’s meeting….. http://eastdevonalliance.org/2014/07/23/a-personal-reflection-from-the-eda-chairman-on-the-eddc-full-council-meeting-wednesday-23rd-june/

Comments

1. At 09:46 am on 24th Jul Sandra Semple wrote:

It’s fear that encourages their behaviour - justifiable and real fear.  Independents are the true councillors.

2. At 01:07 pm on 24th Jul Lynne Deam wrote:

I have had an absolute gut full of these arrogant Tories, whether it be at local council level or government.  David Cameron has just moved some females into his cabinet, I they are afforded more courtesy than yourself and Susie are at these meetings!  The sooner you stand for parliament the better, it’s just what the country needs!

3. At 06:10 pm on 24th Jul Tim Todd wrote:

I thought that the comment from Cllr Bloxham, to the effect that he had been censored by Cllr Claire Wright on this blog, was a cheap and nasty trick. It was a telling moment, but not quite as his buddies may have then thought. His suggestion that it was a result of personal intervention by Cllr Clare Wright is illuminating. It is the sort of assumption that comes from an unenquiring mind. Forget looking for the truth and the facts, go for the easy option and try and use it to embarrass. It is a behaviour more usually found in a children’s playground.

The comments came from a man who also spoke of having spent thirty years in the police - which left me wondering whether he had ever been taught to look beyond the first impression, to search for evidence and the facts.

His moment of glory, making his allegation and being encouraged by the baying mob, may be short lived. I suspect that some present, who urged a hasty close to the night’s business, knew full well that his being ‘censored’ by the blog was exclusively down to anti-spamming software - but allowing Cllr Wright her right of reply, and an explanation of that fact,  would have ruined Cllr Bloxham’s night.

Knowing how his mind might work is important if he is to be entrusted with researching a project - such as public speaking restrictions.

What we should take from this stunt is that when Cllr Bloxham is entrusted to research a task we might be wise to question his investigative competence, and impartiality, when it comes to unearthing facts and giving a thoughtful and accurate account.

4. At 10:29 am on 25th Jul Sandra Semple wrote:

So, there you have it - we can’t speak at DMC meetings, pretty soon we won’t be able to get to the council offices if they move to Skypark and some of our councillors can’t discuss matters they want to discuss (EDBF and its relationship to Graham Brown and EDDC) because officers and the all-powerful Cabinet refuse to allow discussion.

In the meantime, developers have access to officers and councillors almost at will, jobs at Skypark will be filled by people commuting from Exeter and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee will neither overview nor scrutinise anything of importance.  And, in this year where we are marking the commencement of the First World War, we have fine speeches about what we fought for.

Such is democracy in East Devon in 2014.  Use your vote well in 2015.

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