Mayor bans cellulars and proper debate from council meeting

ANDREW PELLING reports that Town Hall meetings have become even less democratic and transparent after some arbitrary rulings this week

Croydon’s new mayor Eddy Arram marked his first full council meeting on Monday by passing an arbitrary rule that works against residents being able to follow proceedings in the chamber, and by allowing the council’s chief executive to influence a decision to exclude everyone but a small cabal from having any access to information or influence on a debate on the £1 billion waste incinerator proposed for Beddington Lane.

Eddy Arram: 32 years a councillor, now Croydon Mayor

It was a difficult night for 64-year-old Arram, as the one-time council office manager, when thrust to centre stage, fluffed his lines over agenda items and got the names of three councillors wrong.

Slouching in his mayoral chair, Arram, a councillor for Ashburton ward who has represented the Conservatives for 32 years, spent much of the time in the meeting chatting and smirking with officers, apparently not bothering to listen to the debate.

Although iPads and Blackberries are permitted for use in the House of Commons – one of the borough’s MPs has been observed Tweeting through a Westminster session rather than paying close attention to his own minister’s speech – new guidance was issued at the start of Monday night’s Croydon Council meeting that use of cellular equipment was banned, “as it interferes with the sound system”.

Is blaming the technology really a satisfactory excuse in the 21st century?

This edict had the effect of restricting live Tweeting by residents at the meeting, to the advantage of the old-fashioned press in the press gallery populated by the Redhill Sadvertiser.

The decision was another blow against democracy and transparency in Croydon; it is now nearly four years since the the scrapping of live streaming of council meetings, on grounds of cost. Such restrictions will have been a blow to Tim Pollard, the deputy leader of the Conservative group and a confirmed advocate of the use of new media to engage the electorate.

When the latest, arbitrary rule was queried on Monday, Mayor Arram – who has a day job working as a constituency gofer to Conservative MP Gavin Barwell – warned that the questioner would be removed from the chamber because “the meeting is for councillors, not the public.”

The council then moved on to debate whether it is right to ban the public and 50 of Croydon’s 70 councillors from meetings and from receiving information about the proposed Beddington Lane incinerator.

Jon Rouse, Croydon’s £248,000 per year chief executive, warned that officers of the council were empowered in law to deny councillors access to information as elected representatives.

The Conservative majority endorsed the CEO’s position, with senior councillor Phil “Two Permits” Thomas saying that since Labour councillors had failed to attend many public meetings about the incinerator, their complaints about banned access were just about party political trouble-making.

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4 Responses to Mayor bans cellulars and proper debate from council meeting

  1. I don’t think Jon Rouse’s warning to councillors is right.

    If councillors vote for or against something in a council chamber they can potentially be surcharged – so the CEO cannot deny them informaton. Legally it is the officers’ job to make sure councillors have all the information to make a decision.

    The CEO cannot decide who can and cannot have information – he is the public servant answerable to the full council, not the other way around.

    If members were excluded from voting on a decision, how can that be a council decision? Who were excluded? And what about the quorum?

  2. As the owner of a new web radio station in Croydon, we’d be very happy to help the Council stream the audio of their meetings on our station, live as it happens. Alternatively, we could record it for later playout or as part of a listen again service.

  3. The vote regarding the incinerator took place on January 30. I can only presume that the Tory councillors voted without receiving any information from the few in the inner sanctum. Councillor Hilley was indeed heard saying she did not remember she had voted.

    A show of hands was requested by the Labour councillors. I was an eye witness and can confirm that ALL Tory councillors voted for the incinerator to go ahead.

    I refer readers to Agenda Item 12 and am very happy to send anybody a copy of the document “reserved to the full Council for approval”.

    Confusion reigned supreme at the full Council meeting on July 2 and many procedural mistakes were made. The Mayor, obviously not au fait with modern technology, did not help with his intervention regarding ban of equipment. Councillor Tim Pollard’s private explanation on Twitter is not acceptable. He was not the only councillor Tweeting in Council Chambers.

    It has now become essential to film all Council meetings for the future. Not only the public will be able to see the thuggish behaviour of the people they have elected (so the latter may not be elected again) but utterances may be checked and lies exposed. The public will also hear long interventions on ducks, picnics and trophies and descriptions of a Croydon without potholes, litter and empty buildings, indeed a town without any problem. I long to see the minutes of the July meeting.

    I welcome the offer of help from Tim Longhurst and hope that the Council will gracefully accept it. Otherwise, I demand the right to record the meeting myself. For example, although I was paying great attention to the shambolic debate, my friend and I cannot reconcile on a few points. It would be most useful if we could listen again to what was said.

  4. Croydon Radio’s offer to record meetings or transmit live proceedings is very welcome. Transparency is needed in Croydon Council. If other residents were to hear the way Cllr Fisher and others conduct themselves at these meetings, they would be horrified. It is time that these people were exposed.

    That any councillors are barred from seeing private papers regarding costs to Croydon Council reaching millions of pounds (at least) such as the incinerator, is deeply disturbing. I look forward to Croydon Radio broadcasting meetings of Croydon Council; and not just Full Council meetings; but other meetings such as Cabinet, Planning Committees and other meetings of significant interest to the public.

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