Councillors deny ‘democracy is dead’ amid fierce criticism

PUBLISHED: 06:56 15 October 2018

Chairman Peter Mitchell took over the running of Portishead Town Council from Lesley Cottrell.

Chairman Peter Mitchell took over the running of Portishead Town Council from Lesley Cottrell.

Archant

Senior figures on Portishead Town Council have rejected claims it is trying to kill democracy by altering the way meetings are run.

Last week’s Times saw several regular attendees of council meetings slam changes to how the public could address members.

At the start of meetings, people living in the town are given a few minutes to address the council.

Previously, they have been allowed to talk on any topic, even if it is not something which falls under the jurisdiction of the town council – such as education provision or waste collection.

But at September’s recreation and works committee, several people had their addresses curtailed because they did not relate to an agenda item which councillors were due to discuss. The move prompted conflict and the meeting was halted for several minutes as a result.

Attendees, in letters to the Times, said ‘democracy is dead’ and accused the council of trying to avoid scrutiny.

But its chairman, Peter Mitchell, denied this is the case.

He said: “We want to see the open meetings run smoothly and with a continually growing number of people wanting to speak during public participation, we can run out of time before everyone has had their say.

“It’s certainly not about stopping people from speaking out. It’s about being fair to everyone, not just those who speak loudest.

“In view of this, we have looked to our standing orders for help.

“We would just like the public to follow the procedures set out by standing orders and councillors will help everyone they can.”

Cllr Mitchell suggested people approach their ward councillor, or speak to a member before or after a meeting instead.

His predecessor, and vice-chairman, Lesley Cottrell added: “What the council is saying is you don’t have to go to a meeting for your concerns to be dealt with, you can approach your councillor, Peter or myself, outside meetings and can rest assured the matter will be recorded and acted upon, going before the whole council if it becomes necessary.

“It may be to assure residents we are dealing with the matters they have raised outside of meetings that we produce a monthly report of the cases councillors are working on in addition to the matters that have been raised in meetings.”

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