Legal row: ‘Talk to each other’ says Monitoring Officer
The Monitoring Officer at West Lindsey District Council has responded after being contacted about a dispute over public access to documents during council meetings.
The dispute began during the January monthly meeting of Caistor Town Council, during a discussion about a list of properties that had either been unoccupied for a long time or were perceived as “requiring action’. The list was to be forwarded to West Lindsey District Council to lobby for action.
During the discussion, councillors were each seen holding and referring to a list that was not available to the public.
The Citizen interrupted the debate to query why the document was not publicly available, and a dispute began as to whether the meeting could be interrupted to allow a legal challenge.
Town Clerk Helen Pitman said the public could ask to see the document once it had been ratified by councillors.
Councillors quickly ratified the lists and it was circulated among four members of the public at the meeting.
Ironically, the list could not be published due to legal uncertainty. It contained an error and documents with errors should only be published in good faith. It is unclear how amendments can affect the rules concerning publication.
Instead of publishing the list, the Citizen highlighted the error to the town council.
The outcome seemed unfortunate for all parties. Various communications between the Citizen and the Council suggested the issue remained unresolved, so the Citizen asked the Monitoring Officer to intervene to ensure clarity at future meetings.
However, in his reply, Monitoring Officer Alan Robinson confirmed that he was unable to help with the situation.
Mr Robinson advised that his role is to oversee councillors’ behaviour to ensure that they abide by an agreed Code of Conduct. He has recommended all parties meet to talk through the issues instead.
The Citizen would welcome the chance to discuss some issues with the council, but the complexity of some legislation might make this particular issue difficult to vocalise. The relevant complaints procedure, which is operated by Caistor Town Council, is likely to take a few months to process.