"The council has on two occassions by a majority voted to retain public prayers at it's full meetings. But that does not give it power to do what it has no power to do".
How Carmarthenshire might react to such heathenism I'm not sure, what would happen to a councillor who stood by his or her conscience and didn't take part in the prayers? and maybe even failed to stand to attention for the X Factor entrance of the Chair and Chief Executive? I dread to think, I suppose they would be ostracised like a sickly goose.
Sometimes, to give such actions a veneer of democracy a vote is called and the councillors, bombarded with legal jargon and stern instructions that they need to 'update the constitution in line with current legislation' will pass the new rule with no real knowledge as to whether it's entirely legal or not. Who would know? Who would dare challenge it? Who becomes accountable if the council is exceeding it's powers under the Act?
If, as appears to be the case in Bideford, it was the 'prayer slot' itself which was legally flawed, it didn't matter how many times the more god-fearing members made a majority vote in favour, it was beyond the power of the council, as a civic body, to hold prayers anyway - in other words, the council were acting 'ultra vires'.
Recently, Carmarthenshire council officers have been busy changing the rules without even a passing glance to council members, (or no further than the closet loyalists anyway) I am, in case you were wondering, thinking of the entry procedures to the public gallery. Clearly the Council are a little mixed up, excuses waver between 'fire regulations', 'everybody does it' and 'we've had a problem'. Sadly, the full council has not had a chance to even examine if these new rules are legal, never mind debate whether this is their preferred method of welcoming visiting residents.
The undertaking not to film, is couched in quasi-legal terms 'I hereby undertake..." giving it the added weight of a vague legal threat. Refusal to sign should not prevent access, that cannot be lawful. The added requirement to provide an address is just plain baffling - I can only imagine it is just in case there's a fire, the mortal remains of the bloggers and observers locked in the public gallery could be returned to the next of kin. However, according to the Democratic Services Manager he shreds (yes, personally shreds) all the signed undertakings immediately after the meeting.
This raises another question which I enquired about at Wednesday's meeting, which is whether, under the Council's entry in the Data Protection Register it has a right to collect and hold this information about visitors to the public gallery. I had a response, with the various pertinent entries angrily highlighted in red - fair enough, but if they are so sure they are entitled to hold this information why the immediate shredding exercise after the meeting?
A small point maybe but as I mentioned in my previous post, I was refused a photocopy of my signed undertaking from Wednesday's meeting. I got in touch with the Democratic Services Manager to ask why. To be fair, he went to some trouble, and stretches of the imagination, to provide me with an answer. I would reply but the gentleman informed me on Wednesday that he is aware of 'blogsites' so I will assume he will read it online. The email (or "E Mail") exchange is here;
To Democratic Services Manager,
Prior to yesterday's Council meeting I asked for a photocopy of the undertaking, the one which I had signed, the staff at reception said this would be fine and I offered to pick it up after the meeting.
When I returned to the desk I was told I was not allowed a copy, the staff could not give me a reason other than they were following orders.
Could you please explain why I couldn't have a copy? As I have previously been given a copy of an undertaking several months ago, and I offered to pay for this one, clearly it is not a matter of general practice to refuse such a request. The undertaking does, after all, contain my personal details.
I look forward to your prompt reply
and here's the reply, with my comments in blue;
Dear Mrs. Thompson
Thank you for your E Mail.
Unfortunately the staff working at reception yesterday were relatively inexperienced and should not have indicated that they would make a copy of the undertaking that you signed.
Oh, good idea. Blame the staff. Struggling to carry out these daft orders and deal with bewildered members of the public faced with an array of forms and 'rules' they must read and sign; and what on earth was said to the pleasant lady who had toddled off to get me a copy?
You will be aware that the reception area is very busy and particularly so immediately prior to meetings of the Council and its Committees.
I have seen no more than about 8 people waiting in the reception area on a council meeting day, usually it's less. Before all this, everyone could enter through the external door of course and wouldn't have to loiter in the lobby waiting for the guards.
On such occasions the priority is to deal with visitors as they arrive in order to avoid delays and inconvenience.
Really? there were no delays or inconvenience before the council themselves instigated these restrictions.
The Council does not provide members of the public with a free photocopying service and there is no photocopying facility readily available to reception staff on the ground floor. The reception area has to be fully manned to avoid disruption and delays for visitors and to deal with the thousands of telephone calls they receive each day, it is for these reasons that I informed the staff concerned that they should not provide you with a photocopy of your undertaking.
I offered to pay for it and I had given the staff three hours to provide me with the copy - to which they'd happily and pleasantly agreed. 'Fully manned'? Believe me, it's hardly the nerve centre of NASA.
You are quite right in stating that the undertakings include personal details of visitors and it is for this reason that I personally retain the copies and destroy them immediately after the conclusion of the meeting by shredding.
I have an image here of the gentleman surrounded by confettii-like clouds of shredded undertakings.
On your next visit to the Public Gallery in County Hall, if you require a copy of the undertaking that you sign, we will arrange for you to sign 2 copies of the undertaking with the intention of letting you retain one for your own use.
I beg your pardon?
This will be a far more efficient and economical way of complying with your request.”
Efficient and economical? Are we still 'reducing the burden of administration then'? Are we still on the same planet? And isn't it common practice to end an email with 'yours sincerely' or similar, rather than quotation marks?