Today’s Gazette carries an excellent summary of Thursday’s rather turbulent full Council meeting.
Stand out matters centre around Councillor quotes which expose their true feelings towards open democracy, and for that matter, the public themselves.
In defence of the public’s right to field questions without time limit, Independent Councillor Jane Branley put it to the meeting that this was an attempt to gag the public. Not so said Deputy Mayor Councillor Alex Donaldson, and then it true Stalinist fashion passed the following decree, “The Mayor has made a ruling. Show some respect”. Sorry Councillor Donaldson, but this approach does gag the public and it’s them you should respect. Your Kremlin like ruling stops them holding to account those they have elected and voted for (and in cases, not voted for) a feature of any true and open democracy. You may think you operate a closed shop along the lines of a private members club, but you don’t.
The gagging approach is based purely on the fear that the unfettered hegemony that has existed for decades is under threat from an independent and free thinking electorate.
If this were ever in any doubt, Councillor Eddie McAtominey sealed the case for the prosecution. "These questions aren't answered for free. If most of these people had simply visited the library and looked at the minutes of the council meetings, they would have been able to find most of the answers there." Now that’s a little bit unfair Councillor McAtominey. First of all, some of the public have to work full time and simply don’t have the opportunity. Many present on the day of the meeting had actually taken time out from their annual holiday allocation (but then again, that’s why you hold your meetings at 3.00 p.m. on an afternoon isn’t it!) Secondly, some issues related to revenue figures for the last ten years, material which is not always held at the library. Finally however, the cost does not matter: open democracy cannot be quantified, though you would clearly like it to have some form of limit. Part of your election remit is to provide open information to the public on a free and accessible basis. The Council has a clerical staff of thousands who have this information immediately to hand, therefore you don’t have to dig the answers out yourself. If you’re so worried about the costs involved, don’t allow Council officials on shindigs to country hotels that cost the tax payers thousands of pounds.
Finally, it was left to Council Leader Paul Waggot to burst a gasket and finish up with egg on his chin. Accusing Councillor Alan Branley of planting the public’s questions, his response drew a strong rebuttal. I submitted a question to this particular meeting, and for the record and Councillor Waggot’s ears, I have never met Mr Branley, spoken to him or exchanged correspondence with him.
Clearly, the Leader has learnt nothing from the BRENDA affair and the issue of loose talk. Never mind, with behaviour like this, Geraldine White will not have to do much ward campaigning and the Labour cohort will have to pick themselves a new leader (that’s if they still actually still hold a majority). Councillor Waggott obviously thinks the public do not have the ability to submit questions based on their own ability or political views and clearly holds them in contempt.
He’s in for a big shock in the New Year then!