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Revitalise the Parish Council Public Forum

 
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When Should the Public Forum be held
Have Public Forum Before Official Meeting
80%
 80%  [ 4 ]
Have Public Forum After Official Meeting
0%
 0%  [ 0 ]
I am not interested one way or the other
20%
 20%  [ 1 ]
Total Votes : 5

Author Message
Rhodie



Joined: 14 Sep 2005

Posts: 425
Location: Rhode Hill, Uplyme

PostPosted: 14/09/10, 15:44    Post subject: Revitalise the Parish Council Public Forum Reply with quote

On countless occasions, having seen an item on the agenda, someone unfamiliar with procedure has gone along to an Uplyme Parish Council meeting with the intention of making their views known and has been told that the Public Forum, fifteen minutes during which the public can speak, doesn’t take place until the official council business has finished. They would then have had a long wait, for example at this September’s meeting the Public Forum didn’t begin until 9:45 pm. Then to add insult to injury after hopefully putting over their argument succinctly and convincingly they would have been told that the council was unable to act on their views because the subject had been decided on during the official business. What's more once a decision has been taken by the council, it cannot be reversed for 6 months except by special motion.

To overcome this problem many quality parish councils, including Lyme Regis Town Council, arrange to hold the Public or Open Forum before the official business begins. The councillors can then take into account the views of the parishioners in coming to decisions regarding the business that follows and more to the point everyone present will be aware that perhaps there are views contrary to the official one.

Several parishioners having been in this frustrating position have by persevering managed to get Item 10 "Open forum arrangements: before/ after meeting" onto September’s Agenda. Unfortunately in dealing with this item the majority of the parish council appeared to see no advantage in making a change to "before" rather than "after". But no argument was put forward to support the continuation of holding the forum after the end of official business other than that parishioners would not stay for the meeting if the session was beforehand, the present system works and should be left alone or that parishioners have every opportunity to contact the parish councillors before the meetings to put their views across. All the same it was hoped that members of the public at the meeting, a grand total of five individuals, would give their views during the evening’s Open Forum. It was agreed that the subject should again be put on the agenda for the October meeting once the five members of the public had been consulted!

During the Open Forum ideas, from both sides of the floor, were bandied about including making the change for a trial period of six months, dividing the Forum with half before and half after the official business, that the timing of the Forum should be the decision of the parishioners not the councillors, that the parish should be consulted on such a change, but the overwhelming feeling coming from the councillors was that they were against any change and things should stay as they are. Absent, from the views of either councillors or parishioners, was any indication of how making the change would lead to a deterioration of local democracy.

During the evening comments were made regarding the poor turnout of the public at parish council meetings.
Does this indicate complacency?
I think not. It more reflects the frustration that the parishioners have with the way meetings are arranged. Allowing the public their say before the official meetings begin would give the public the feeling of appreciation and involvement in what the parish council is or should be all about. The business of the parishioners! Although some parish councillors, our representatives, are inclined to forget this fact at times.

If you feel that making this change would revitalise parish council meetings and wish for your views to count then please contact one or more of the councillors and/or the parish clerk Lois Wakeman at: clerk@uplymeparishcouncil.org

Don’t come along to the next meeting and hope to have your say before the vital decision is made. But with your help perhaps you could do that at the November meeting.

In the meantime it would be interesting to get an idea if this change would be appreciated by having an unofficial vote. I am therefore setting up a poll which will run until the day before the next parish council meeting. Please cast your vote, you will have to log in to vote, contact your councillors and come along to the next meeting on Wednesday 13th October 2010 for a step towards democracy.
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Alan



Joined: 01 Oct 2010

Posts: 1

PostPosted: 01/10/10, 15:06    Post subject: Reply with quote

The current situation is frustration for parishioners on two counts:

(i) the opportunity to speak is after the meeting thus depriving parish councillors of observations which may be pertinent to their deliberations in the formal meeting. Thus members of the public feel it is all a ‘fait a complis’
(ii) the lack of available draft minutes of the previous meeting renders those items of business closed to the public.

All in all the public’s opportunity to provide useful and effective comments, which might assist parish councillors is delayed by five to eight weeks. This may contribute to an inherent disinterest in the proceedings of the parish council.

I do think the PC might look at ways in which parishioners’ interest in their proceedings might be re-activated. It won’t happen over-night. Maybe a trial run for a year of having the public forum at the start of the meeting, with a time limit on the time an individual may speak, and the availability of draft minutes of the previous meeting to be seen by those attending, would help all concerned.

My own experience is that the open forum prior to the formal meeting has worked and has left members of the public feeling their observations are valued.

It is interesting that this practice is adopted in Lyme Regis and is being extended to all committees.
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Rhodie



Joined: 14 Sep 2005

Posts: 425
Location: Rhode Hill, Uplyme

PostPosted: 14/10/10, 11:25    Post subject: Reply with quote

Since the September meeting the parish councillors have obviously thought about the pros and cons of moving the Open Forum to the beginning of the meetings and at the October Parish Council Meeting came out in favour of the change by unanimously voting for its introduction. What’s more they have gone for the best of both worlds by having one session before the meetings and one after. Again they have not been mean in dividing the 15 minutes allowed into the two sessions but given a whole 15 minutes to each session.

This, as Brian Mason said at the recent Lyme Valley Society meeting, is an entirely different parish council to what we had to put up with 20 years ago when the now disbanded Lyme Valley Society was set up (see the post: “The Lym Valley Society - Wound Up”.

This current parish council team deserves better attendance at the meetings. Come and support them.
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