AN ATTEMPT by soon-to-retire SIC councillor Jonathan Wills to ensure elected members’ seminars are held in public was defeated by a resounding 17-2 margin at the last local authority meeting prior to May’s election.
Wills, who worked as a journalist in the islands for many years, argued that the council had acquired the habit of staging seminars and workshops that “discuss things that could and should be discussed in public”.
He believes opening up the seminars – used as forums where councillors receive information and get the opportunity to quiz officials without the media and other members of the public being present – would enable the community to get a “better idea of the financial, organisational and political difficulties” the SIC faces.
Wills suggested the present situation resulted in “a consensus being created… before we get to full council meetings”.
“There should be a presumption that seminars will always be held in public, and where there is a good reason for going into private that should be stated,” he said.
But he was only able to persuade one other councillor – North Mainland member Andrea Manson – to back his proposal that the new council should look into the matter.
Political leader Gary Robinson said holding seminars was nothing to do with “being secretive”. All 22 councillors are independents, but in party political councils there would regularly be group meetings behind closed doors.
“Seminars are a safe environment for members to ask the questions they might not otherwise ask without the full glare of the media,” Robinson said, going on to claim: “This council has been much more open than it was in the past.”
He accepted that council meetings are “not the media spectacle they used to be, but is that a bad thing?”
Councillor Michael Stout rejected any notion that there had been “secret cabals and consensus-building” in private, while Allan Wishart said he found seminars “very useful” because they give councillors “breathing space before it comes to the formal decision-making process”.
Wills said he was frustrated that much questioning and scrutiny of council policies took place in private, because members were “not going to rehearse and repeat” that exercise at subsequent meetings.
“It’s one of the reasons why meetings can be so dull,” he added. “Why should we be frightened about the glare of the media, the glare of the public?”
Robinson’s motion easily defeated Wills’ amendment by 17 votes to two.
Meanwhile, during a discussion of the induction process new members will face following 4 May, councillor Frank Robertson raised a few chuckles by recalling how different that process had been when he took office back in 1999.
He said then councillor John Nicholson had handed him the minutes of the previous council meeting and “that was it”, while Florence Grains had told him to keep his counsel for the first six months until he got a grasp of how everything worked.
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