“Fiasco” in Colyton Parish Council and its Chairman narrowly survives confidence vote

Another contender emerges as East Devon’s very own Handforth – Owl

Council agrees to broadcast virtual meetings after ‘fiasco’ over accuracy of minutes

Francesca Evans seaton.nub.news 

Colyton Parish Council has agreed to record and broadcast its virtual meetings in future, following a request from a member of the public who described recent meetings as “a fiasco”.

The December meeting of the parish council descended into an ill-tempered debate over the accuracy of the minutes of the previous meeting in November, when the controversial Neighbourhood Plan had been discussed.

The minutes reported that a decision was made to withhold all comments submitted during the public consultation on the draft Neighbourhood Plan, until the consultation period was over, and they would then be shared with parish councillors and members of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Committee at the same time.

Council chairman Andrew Parr said this was not what was agreed by the council; he understood that parish councillors would not see the comments until after the consultation period had ended, but the steering committee members would receive them so they could continue with their work.

After much heated debate on the subject, a vote on whether or not to amend the minutes was split, with Cllr Parr giving his casting vote in favour of changing them.

Cllr Howard West then put forward a motion of no confidence in the chairman, but this failed with four votes to five.

Throughout the meeting, several members of the public argued that they had listened to the November meeting and the minutes had been correct.

Now a resident has called for all future meetings, currently held via video conferencing app Zoom, to be recorded and broadcast to the public to ensure similar confusion does not happen again.

Speaking in support of the proposal during the public forum at this week’s meeting, Rob Kenyon said: “I’d like you to consider formally recording your sessions in a more accurate way, whether that’s visually or visual and audio after the fiasco of the meetings in November and December.

“I think this would be beneficial to whoever is taking the minutes and for people to reflect back on to get clarity on what was said and what was not.”

Addressing Cllr Parr, Mr Kenyon continued: “Me and other members of the public witnessed that particular meeting and that isn’t what we heard, so why you then chose to change those minutes and proceed with other councillors to try and get them formally changed is beyond me.

“To cut out all that aggravation, it would be far better if you had a system to recall what was said fully and accurately and then all this animosity would be resolved.”

Cllr Paul Arnott, who is also leader of East Devon District Council, said most other local authorities were already recording and broadcasting their meetings.

Referring to a video clip of Handforth Parish Council in Cheshire, which went viral last week due to the dysfunctional nature of the meeting, he joked: “I don’t think any of us fear we’re the next Jackie Weaver!”

He continued: “It’s a little bit embarrassing for us because so many tiny parish councils are doing this and why aren’t we?

“All that would happen is that this Zoom meeting would simultaneously be put out either on YouTube or a Facebook link, which could be done in about 30 seconds.

“We may get one person watching, we may get 50, but at the moment we’re in no man’s land because people are having to login to our Zoom meetings when they could just be watching it via their own Facebook account or something.”

Cllr Ray Watts argued that the council was not being asked to broadcast the meetings, but just to record them for their own use to check accuracy.

However, clerk Ian Haines said the initial request from the public did ask for the meetings to be broadcast, which by default meant they would also be recorded for future reference.

Cllr Arnott said: “It’s almost perverse not to do both, you just press one button.”

But Cllr Watts pointed out that this would involve setting up a parish council Facebook account or something similar, and proposed the meetings be recorded only on a three-month trial basis.

One member of the public then interrupted, asking: “What are you frightened of?”

Cllr Arnott commented: “Just because about every other town and parish council in East Devon are doing this, we should record it and make it available for transmission on the internet. ‘Broadcast’ is a really loaded term, all we’re doing is putting it on the internet.”

Cllr Crispin Denny added: “Absolutely, this is the 21st century and this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.”

On Cllr Arnott’s proposal, it was agreed to record and broadcast future meetings.