I have heard that I am now banned from all public meetings of the Council at County Hall unless I sign an undertaking not to film which will be 'enforced'. What that implies about the one signed under duress at the Police station I really have no idea and 10 days later I am still waiting for a copy. As I refused to sign the one sent by the Chief Executive a few weeks ago, I am certainly not signing anything now. I would also imagine that 'enforcable' undertakings should have some sort of legal seal, but what do I know? I will post more on this, and other closely related matters, as soon as I have more information.
Sometime shortly after the incidents on the 8th June the Council's claims that filming or recording were banned under the constitution were found to be false. I already knew this, but as the parochial bubble burst and this became common knowledge outside the secure boundaries of Carmarthenshire, the council clearly needed to come up with an alternative excuse. Rather imaginatively they came up with the idea that County Hall was their building and they, as guardian angels of democracy, were protecting the electorate from the 'undemocratic' onslaught of Mrs Thompson and her phone. I commend them on their logic and see how this may sound good as a press release, especially in times of war or anarchy, but it falls short when it comes to reality of this situation. Firstly, it is not their bulding, it is our building and even more so the Chamber within. Secondly, it is not me who is a threat to democracy, it is they, and anyone who witnessed the scenes over the Day Club petition, and anyone else who has observed meetings, or who has followed this blog, may well come to the same conclusion. I have also been reminded by Carmarthenshire bloggers here and here, of a quote by Meryl Gravell, Leader of the Council and 'chief guardian of democracy', speaking in 2008 about controversial plans to close 40 primary schools,
"Some (council) members exhibit extreme weakness and are prepared to listen to people protesting about school closures out there…in the community."
Shock horror. And if she claims her words were taken out of context, which they weren't, perhaps she would have been grateful if someone had filmed it. The same goes for some Members of the Planning Committee who have granted permission because someone is of "impeccable character" or, perhaps worse still, because they were "not outsiders". Time for us to listen in methinks.
I did not disrupt their meeting nor behave in an undemocratic manner, this notion is laughable. There were no grounds for the council to act as they did nor the police. Incidentally the meeting was not even correctly 'adjourned' - a motion without notice should have been passed for this to happen. I presume that because they (the Chair and Chief Executive) - had swept aside Cllr Caiach's attempts to table a motion to debate the day club a few minutes prior to this - it would have looked a little undemocratic to pass one a few minutes later to adjourn the meeting for my removal - so the correct procedure was quietly and conveniently brushed aside. They wouldn't want to look undemocratic now would they? And out of interest, are other Council meetings elsewhere in the UK usually controlled by the Chief Executive?...
I am pleased to see that Freedom of Information Requests have gone in to all Welsh local authorities, thanks to @Aledwg and others, asking for their policies on filming, blogging and tweeting etc at meetings. I wonder whether Carmarthenshire Council will now follow the shining example set by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council on the 25th May and decide to include a banning clause in their Constitution? Maybe Carmarthenshire's Executive Member with the portfolio for 'Modernising Local Government' who rose to her feet to complain about me will think it's a good idea.
Or perhaps they'll just bring back the Village Stocks.
I am very grateful to everyone who is signing my petition, and thanks to journalist and blogger @joniayn for calling in and for providing independent confirmation that I am, in fact, perfectly sane! I am pleased to notice several Councillors and politicians amongst the growing list...I wonder when we will see some of the 74 Carmarthenshire County Councillors adding their support.....
Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 1,4(c)
'While the meeting is open to the public, the body shall not have power to exclude members of the public from the meeting and duly accredited representatives of newspapers attending for the purpose of reporting the proceedings for those newspapers shall, so far as practicable, be afforded reasonable facilities for taking their report and, unless the meeting is held in premises not belonging to the body or not on the telephone, for telephoning the report at their own expense'
I would also like to include here a comment left on the New Statesman article by a Councillor who was present at the meeting from which I was arrested;
"As one of the coucillors filmed by Jacqui I have no objection whatsoever to her actions. The Chief Executive Mr Mark James and Chair Cllr Ivor Jackson suspended the meeting and called the police without any reference to the coucillors in the meeting. It would be usual practise to ask for a motion from the floor to suspend a full council meeting,[often done to have lunch, for example, if there's an overun].
Why the chief executive should suddenly declare that the meeting must be suspended and the police called, I have no idea.
There is absolutely no reason why we should not be filmed and I believe we owe Jacqui an apology for this whole episode. The police may also be at fault but our Chief Executive panicked, failed to consult the elected councillors on our wishes and decided to stop the meeting abruptly and call the police. It was a public meeting, there was no need for any of this.
Due to the Cheif Exec's actions many council members were of the opinion that there must be some rule forbidding filming - the Chief Exec has a law degree.
During the debate filmed he denied both myself and a colleague access to consult the Council Solicitor, who also sits in the meeting, to give advice on whether the chair could accept a motion from the floor. He made it quite clear that he was the senior officer present and no other opinion was relevent. This is shown on the youtube footage.
It is not unusual for Mr Mark James to dominate full council meetings, give the chair advice on how to conduct the meetings and answer personally questions directed through the chair for other officers or councillors.
Our council is well known for being "officer led" and the majority of my councillor colleagues have until now been very happy with this situation.
I think filming of our meetings is a good thing. In a large rural county few can be expected to travel to see our meetings in person. I for one am happy to share them."
On an unrelated point, interesting news from Bolton yesterday; the Information Commissioner has ruled that the Council must reveal the Register of Interests of Senior Council Officers (eg land, property and business interests) - this may well set a precedent accross the UK..even Wales. Bolton Council have 35 days to appeal or be taken to the High Court, it will be an interesting case to follow...as well as follow up.