• Scrutiny councillors vote in favour of recording meetings

    4th January 2013 | News | Claire
  • And the clause allowing council officers to opt out of being recorded has now been removed, following consultation with staff.

    But the initiative will take some months to implement, as chief executive, Mark Williams, has ruled that the matter is a constitutional change, therefore must go before a full council AGM before it can be agreed!  The next AGM is in May.

    The move to audio record meetings follows recent controversy over minutes bearing little resemblance to discussions relating to East Devon Business Forum and previously formal complaints that resulted in a councillor being judged to have breached the code of conduct in six places.

    Many other quibbles and arguments have taken place over who said what at various meetings.

    Cllr Roger Giles made a request for meetings to be recorded at the EDDC meeting of 7 December 2011, which council leader, Paul Diviani, referred to the overview and scrutiny committee.  The committee debated the issue of webcasting earlier this year, but the majority rejected it.

    With some prodding from me, the item came back to the committee in October, where communications portfolio holder, Cllr Thomas carried out a test sound recording, which was deemed to be a success.

    The cost is said to be less than £5 for the equipment.

    Last night, Cllr Thomas introduced the issue and spent some time making a case for NOT having webcasting.  It was far too expensive, there would be ‘an empty auditorium,’ and the Devon County Council live webcasts were ‘stultifying and boring’, he said. 

    Later, scrutiny chairman, Cllr Stuart Hughes pointed out that the expense – £40-£50,000 was largely due to a member of staff having to operate several cameras, but these could be unmoving and fixed instead, he said.

    Cllr Thomas said that sound recordings would be a way of operating in a transparent way and dispelling “any myths to the contrary.”

    Editing, Cllr Thomas, explained, would be limited to the committee clerk separating out debates and attaching each one to the relevant agenda item on the website.

    Members of the public and press wishing to record the meeting must do it overtly and make it known to the chairman that they are recording.

    Members of the public will be able to opt-out of being recorded but an attempt by me to make any opt-out more transparent by it noting it in the minutes and on the website, was rejected, we were told, on legal advice.

    I also proposed an amendment to the recommendations, to allow more flexibility about what meetings were recorded, but that was rejected too.

    Taking photographs and filming meetings will still be forbidden, although the media will be able to photograph or film prior to a meeting starting, said Cllr Hughes.

    During the social media policy item, Cllr Mike Allen was insistent that using social media in a personal capacity during a meeting should be a ‘code of conduct issue.’ But rather than tweeting, his comments instead appeared to be centred around ‘councillors who make notes for social media’ or ‘councillors who make notes to send to the press.’

    I got the distinct impression he was referring to me and my blog (again).  My hunch was confirmed when I happened to catch the eye of some councillors sitting opposite who were grinning and gesticulating at me, mouthing: “He’s talking about you!”

    Fortunately, Cllr Allen did not get support from anyone else on his attempt to prevent councillors making notes at meetings. 

    The cabinet will vote on the overview and scrutiny committee’s recommendations at its February meeting.