24 March 2016

It's About Time






The ordinary meetings of New Mills town council are fixed in the calendar.  Unless notified differently, they always take place on the second Monday of every month.  A good, simple, easy-to-remember system.

The following comment has come in following public notice being given of an extraordinary meeting of New Mills Town Council to be held on Wednesday 30 March 2016 at 7:30 pm:
'Another extraordinary meeting for the Town Council (or those who have not resigned).  Is the council aiming for the Guinness Book of Records?'
Before we get onto the business of discussing potential solutions for - or at least improvements to - this recurring problem of how to properly control the length of town council meetings, for information here are the agenda items proper for the 30 March extraordinary meeting:


PART I  NON CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION (PUBLIC IN ATTENDANCE)

5  To receive and confirm the Minutes of the 27 January 2016 meeting

6  Room hire charges and implementation of the rules.

7  New Mills Market and the way forward.

To resolve that the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following items because there may be disclosure to them of exempt information as defined in Schedule 12 A for the Local Government Act 1972.

PART II – CONFIDENTIAL (PRESS AND PUBLIC EXCLUDED

8  Update from the Clerk on staffing matters.  – caretaking / Town Hall cleaning.

9  Valuation Report 2, Watburn Road.

10  Quotes for electrical remedial work at the Town Hall.

11  High Lea Hall – rental proposal.

12  Overdue Account from Tall Poppies

13  FOI – previous employee



The last council meeting ran too long and this meant there wasn't enough time to deal with some essential matters that were on Part Two of the Agenda of that meeting.

The Part One items at the last ordinary council meeting took up too much time.  Hence the need to now convene this extraordinary meeting.  This newly-convened 30 March meeting is for important stuff that has become urgent.

‘Extraordinary’ when referring to local council meetings does not mean extraordinary like a two-headed lamb being born, or it raining frogs, or a bearded man unsuccessful with the ladies getting it into his head that if he will maim and murder a lot of innocent women and children who have done no harm then there are 72 virgins around the corner just desperate to make his acquaintance.

In the context of council meetings, ‘extraordinary’ is the term in local government law for the meetings that are not on the council’s usual schedule of meetings.

Options for solutions to this recurring time-meetings problem include:

  • Ration the time for each councillor. For example, one particular cllr is noted for speaking on virtually every item and for speaking at unnecessary length when he does.
  • Ensure there are fewer items on each agenda
  • Delegate more matters to the council’s proper officer and to council staff (where appropriate)
  • Where time is clearly going to be tight at the meeting, perhaps consider not reading out aloud some or all of the regular Reports. The regular Reports can still be given to cllrs and any members of the public who ask for them, and published on Council website. The regular reports are from the Chair, Clerk and Parks Manager
  • Have a little alarm that goes off when the meeting has got say half an hour to run. This gives notice that Part Two section is approaching
  • Change Standing Orders so that council meetings can run longer. End-time of meetings is not set in stone; however it is currently set in Standing Orders.  Council has the say over what time its meetings end
  • Start council meetings earlier.

It is up to council to determine its standing orders (within the law of course). I was present at a High Peak Borough Council meeting that went on to nearly midnight, even though it was a very well-run meeting and could not reasonably have been shorter

No doubt Transparency’s esteemed readers will in due course have other potential ways forward to solve this recurring issue of New Mills Town Council meetings.