A Letter to the Editor from Michelle DOLAN, in Hambleton, requesting our assistance in promoting the nation-wide data-base of rogue Parish and Town Councils. Readers who have experience of rogue Councillors and/or Clerks may wish to contribute to the data-base by submitting response to the Survey reproduced at the end of Michelle’s Letter.
As you may already be aware, we are in the process of compiling the activities and behaviour of Parish Councils towards members of the public and the way we are treated when engaging with them. This is in an effort to highlight these problems and lack of sanctions on PCs with the Communities Office and other external national agencies.
To take this forward and raise the profile to the public at large of what is happening at this layer of government and the sheer lack of professionalism and accountability (in our own experience), we want YOU to record your own personal interactions and experiences with your own PC’s (and please, please encourage other’s to do likewise).
To make it simpler for us to collate, we have compiled a suggested Paragraph Header list of demeanours experienced overleaf (and added a few), and we would be grateful if you could use these paragraph headers and record a brief and snappy précis/overview of your experiences under the headers relating to the particular experience.
We hope this idea/pro-forma list will assist you in recording your experiences, and we look forward to hearing all of your experiences in an effort to take this matter forward and have a real change in legislation to make Town/Parish Councils accountable to the public whom they purport to serve.
As you can appreciate, all of our experiences with Parish/Town Councils and the contempt, in some cases, in which they hold the Electorate, leaves us with no alternative but to gather our experiences in some way and take to public bodies such as the Communities Secretary to demonstrate that democracy is the fundamental bedrock upon which our Country is built.
To that end, it is my intention to collate documentary evidence, examples and personal experiences of our group, our circle of friends, Parish to Parish on Facebook and other colleagues who have experienced similar frustrating situations with both Town and Parish Councils.
If you would like to be part of what we are trying to achieve, where collectively many voices and experiences are stronger than the lone voice, then I would implore you to follow the format below and send your honest and truthful experiences to me using the Paragraph headers (and indeed any others that we may have missed out) and reply back to me by 31st AUGUST 2014, at the latest.
The reason for this is that I have journalists, Communities Office and the Tax Payers Alliance very interested in what we are trying to achieve. Information shared between us is very important and therefore we want to be absolutely transparent and open with the Tax Payers Alliance and Communities Office and Journalists, and to that end we would appreciate your agreement to share your experiences only (no personal contact details will be forwarded, merely the name of the Parish/Town Council and your own name for verification should this be necessary).
Please contact me on my personal email address and I will provide my telephone number if you would like a chat to discuss before submission of your experiences. Please pass on to other friends who are in a similar situation…the more experiences we can record, the better, even from the same Parish/Town Council.
Michelle DOLAN, Hambleton. 8th August, 2014.
- Example: no tendering process, just awarding jobs to people like grass cutting etc (sometimes to serving Parish Councillors themselves!) All verbal!
Data Storage and Security
- Example: Safe storage of meeting minutes/correspondence/back ups etc (for example, the clerk actually owns the computer and stores all correspondence at his/her home – no back up!)
- Example: Reading your name and address out in meetings/or pointing you out to the assembled throng at meetings, detailing your name address in Minutes etc.
Declarations of Interests
- Example: Parish Councillors not being capable of producing any Declarations of Interest, for a matter of years in some cases.
- Example: A PC not actually being in possession of one, or if they are not actually adhering to it.
- Example: Some Parishioners have received disgraceful letters from PCs accusing them of vexatiousness, being obsessive, and harassment (a criminal act and a mental disorder in one sentence)
Accusations of Vexatiousness
- Example: see above
- Example: Emails and letters to the Clerk ignored or unacknowledged leaving the Parishioner no option but to re-ask for the same thing (careful here…you may be called vexatious)
Ignoring F.O.I.A. requests
- Example: Having to involve ICO on multiple occasions, even when previous complaints have been found against the PC. Some PCs even cite multiple ICO complaints as de facto evidence of “vexatiousness”, in diametric opposition to the terms of Section 14 of the Human Rights Act in relation to FOI requests and non-responsiveness to correspondence in general.
Out of Time responses to F.O.I.A. requests
- Example: As above.
Having to use F.O.I.A. to gain access to Meeting Minutes
- Example: The PC not publicly displaying Minutes. Minutes not accessible on the District Council website which is a facility provided to PCs in the district free of charge. When raised with the PC – their reply “no requirement to do so”. Eg. the Clerk taking a long leave of absence and has directed all correspondence (via a holiday reply e-mail) to go to the Chair – however, the Chair’s address is not published!
Back dating correspondence in a bid to comply with requests
- Example: In one case the ICO had to provide PC’s review letter to Parishioner as the letter had not actually been sent to Parishioner and when it did arrive it was back-date to appear to comply with the ICO guidelines. However the PC did not take into account the fact that The Post Office frank recorded delivery letters, the franking of which clearly displayed the fact that the letter was posted only the day before.
E-mail Holiday reply
- Example: This happens regularly and gives out differing information or a lack of contact details to the person e-mailing.
Parish Council holding Meetings ‘outside of meetings’
- Example: The PC are that unsure of the legislation regarding not being allowed to carry-out these meetings that they actually refer to them in the “proper” Minutes and give decisions made in “out of meeting meetings” as fact in the orthodox Parish Council Meeting Minutes.
- Some minutes of meetings contain examples of planning discussions regarding for instance a property neighbouring a serving Councillor’s home, therefore no declarations of interest or leaving the “out of meeting meeting”.
Actions from Parish Council not recorded or minuted
- Example: One of many examples has come to light through an FOI of PC making a “decision” and when asked for the minutes to accord with that “decision”. There was no mention in any of the minutes of that decision. This makes the “decision”, illegal, invalid and presumably uninsured.
The Clerk speaking offering opinions during Parish Council meetings
- Example: The Clerk expressing personal opinions in the course of Parish Council meetings without recourse to the Chair or the Chair admonishing the Clerk for this behaviour. Other examples are for instance, the Clerk expressing personal opinions based on hearsay and this being recorded in correspondence from the PC.
Malicious accusations towards public during Parish Council meetings
- Example: We are aware from “Parish to Parish” that this does happen and would welcome your personal accounts of this behaviour.
Refusal to allow Filming/recording of Parish Council Meetings
- Example: One only has to access You Tube for the evidence of this. There are lots of examples of meetings being closed by the Chair once the PC is aware that a member of the public is filming.
Proven Lies in correspondence from Parish Council
- Example: A letter stating that only the Clerk has the password to protected files/access to computer containing PC documents. However there is an e-mail which is a holiday reply stating the Clerk is on holiday and the e-mail received by the PC will be passed over to the Chair. The e-mail is signed by a person who has no connection whatsoever to the Parish Council.
Parish Council objecting to planning applications
- Example: The PC have objected to planning adjacent to a serving Councillor’s home, what makes this worse is it wasn’t even done in the correct format i.e. within a Parish Council meeting but was done in an “out of meeting meeting”, therefore no declarations of interest.
- Further example, an application for a fence and barn extension was objected to on grounds of hearsay of two unknown individuals, and no factual evidence with such outrageous comments and personal gripes as “it used to have a rose garden on the front lawn” etc., etc.
- Both of these objections were overturned at District level.
Altering Parish Council Agendas Prior to Meeting and Not Signing and Dating of Such
- Example: The PC call a PC Meeting and in the interim between publishing the Agenda on the public notice board, they alter details of that Agenda and fail to date and sign the Agenda.
First published 7th August 2014