Councillors have been slammed for walking out of a meeting – because a member of the public was filming proceedings.
Members of the Labour-controlled Hetton Town Council walked out of October’s monthly meeting after Kay Rowham started videoing it on her iPad.
The retired IT and telecoms worker took advantage of new Parliamentary legislation, signed by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles in August, that anyone can record, film or tweet from public meetings of local government bodies.
However, her actions sparked a mass exit and now councillors have been told “democracy cannot live behind closed doors” by a council watchdog.
“I go to most of the meetings and I’ve just got a new iPad,” said Mrs Rowham, of Hetton. “When the rules changed, the town clerk advised members of it and I believe they all got copies.
“I did take a paper copy with me just in case, because they are not very public friendly. I go every month and I take notes, just to keep an eye on them.”
Mrs Rowham, who received 25 per cent of votes as a UKIP candidate in the May city council election for Doxford ward, started filming four minutes into the meeting.
She then posted the 12-minute, eight-second clip on video-sharing website YouTube under the name KittyKat.
“From the moment I started, a couple of the councillors looked at me, saying ‘look, she’s recording it’,” she said.
“There was nothing contentious going on. You could see they got uncomfortable and asked me to stop filming. They refused to carry on the meeting while I was filming.
“Coun Anderson said they should call the police. We weren’t being disruptive, it was the councillors causing the uproar.”
On the footage, town clerk John Price can be heard trying to explain to members that the council has to make the provision to allow filming
Despite this, Mayor Tony Wilkinson suspended the meeting, saying: “My ruling is that there shall be no recording until such a time that this is adopted by this council.”
In an explanation of the legislation, the Government website at http://www.gov.uk states:
“The new law aims to end active resistance amongst some councils to greater openness.
“Councils have even called the police to arrest people who tried to report, tweet or film council meetings, or claimed spurious ‘health and safety’ or ‘reputational risks’ to digital reporting.”
Coun Keith Hepple, leader of Hetton Town Council, said:
“The town council meeting on Monday, October 20, 2014, was suspended by the Mayor due to disruptive behaviour by a person.
“This was whilst discussing another issue. The town council is adopting a similar policy and procedure to meet the new legislation and whereby meetings can be recorded and filmed.
“Guidance has been taken from the National Association of Local Councils and their guidelines, and from discussions with other neighbouring local authorities, to ensure the council or its committees will be fully aware of the requirements and constraints of such.”
A spokesman for Labour North said: “This is a matter for the town council to look into under their complaints procedure and not for the Labour Party.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 05 Nov 2014
On Thursday, you can pop along to South Tyneside’s council meeting – without even leaving the house.
Under new guidance from the Local Government Secretary, any member of the press and public can now film and digitally report public local government meetings.
South Tyneside Council is taking things a step further by filming Full Council meetings from September 4, and posting them on the authority website.
Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “I am proud to say that South Tyneside is embracing the opportunity of communicating our valuable work to the electorate in this new digital age.
“In addition to welcoming people into the Council Chamber, we are taking things a stage further by making local government even more accessible to even more people who will be able to watch the footage on their own devices.”
South Tyneside council has already been showcased as a ‘Beacon Council’ for its approach to involving the local community, and has been commended by the Municipal Journal for Excellence in Democratic Services with particular praise for proactively engaging with the local community.
And the council’s website has been highlighted by Industry Standard, Socitm, as amongst the best Local Government websites in the country for its ease of use and wealth of information.
Chiefs hope that posting the meetings on their website – www.southtyneside/info – will stand as an example of greater transparency of the democratic practice.
The authority is also reviewing how councillors use technology to communicate with residents.
Coun Malcolm added: “New technology is also changing the way our democratic processes operate.
“The growth of social media, instant communication via email and text messaging means that the protocols for elected members which the council currently has in place, will be reviewed.”
The final report will be published on the council’s website later in the year.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 29 Aug 2014