Council is rapped

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SOUTH WINGFIELD Parish Council has been rapped for its policy on publishing minutes, which it is claimed fail to meet required standards on accountability and transparency.

Minutes of meetings are supposed to be published “within a reasonable time frame” of around seven days, but in June the parish council told its clerk not to send out minutes until they were approved at the next monthly meeting.

Amber Valley Borough Council’s monitoring officer John Grady had originally met with the chairman, vice-chairman and clerk of the parish council on July 1. At the meeting it became “evident that there was a lack of understanding concerning the roles and responsibilities of both parish councillors and the clerk, parts of the statutory framework within which parish councils operated and the efficient conduct of public meetings” a report said.

On August 4 The Standards Committee considered a number of complaints against members of the parish council and decided that training was needed, which was delivered by Mr Grady on October 10.

Parish councillors were warned at the training session that “unless they promptly put in place local improvement plans, a culture of conflict and division would continue to pervade, causing further reputational damage” and that the Standards Committee would consider designating the parish council “dysfunctional” if improvements were not made.

Following this, the parish council asked the monitoring officer for “clarification” regarding the production of minutes. The parish council clerk’s letter said: “I again have advised the council that the minutes are available to anyone but I am told I cannot send the minutes to anyone until they have been approved at the next monthly meeting.”

Last night’s meeting of the Amber Valley’s standards committee was due to hear Mr Grady had sent a letter in reply to the clerk of South Wingfield saying: “It is disappointing that, following the training and the emphasis given to promote transparency and accountability, that the parish council are considering practises that are disrespectful to the local electors and provide further evidence of dysfunctionality. I strongly suggest that the parish council address this matter as part of any improvement plan.”

He said delaying publication of minutes “can only be seen as an attempt to frustrate public accountability and the rightful opportunity for public challenge”.”.

The parish council wrote back to Mr Grady and denied breaching the Code of Conduct.

In a letter of November 11, it said it was “aggrieved” by his letter and that it felt “confident that we are conducting our business in an extremely functional and competent manner.”

It said that at present, the council had resolved to publish ‘true and accurate’ records of its meetings rather than draft versions which could later be disputed and retracted, leading to further public confusion and embarrassment for the council.

The parish council claimed to be “quite confident and relaxed as to the present reasons as to why it prefers the publication of Approved rather than Draft Minutes”.