Saturday, 24 September 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Last evening I attended a public meeting at the Bell Hotel Inn concerning a potential referendum on the working party for a new Civic Centre proposed by a slight majority of the Town Council.

Originally, this meeting was billed as a Town Meeting, with the aim of calling a Parish Poll (referendum), the organisers of the meeting had contacted Mendip District Council, the Chairman of the Town Council.

To call a Town Meeting you have to follow a series of actions;

Place advertisements of the meetings in a public place with an Agenda. Not less than seven clear days, or, in a case falling within sub-paragraph (3) below, not less than fourteen clear days, before a parish meeting, public notice of the meeting shall be given, specifying the time and place of the intended meeting and the business to be transacted at the meeting, and signed by the person or persons convening the meeting.

Public notice of a parish meeting shall be given—
(a)by posting a notice of the meeting in some conspicuous place or places in the parish, and
(b)in such other manner, if any, as appears to the person or persons convening the meeting to be desirable for giving publicity to the meeting

A parish meeting shall not be held in [F29premises which at the time of the meeting may, by virtue of a premises licence or temporary event notice under the Licensing Act 2003, be used for the supply of alcohol (within the meaning of section 14 of that Act)] , except in cases where no other suitable room is available for such a meeting either free of charge or at a reasonable cost.

I had some concerns that some of the criteria had not been followed and so I had as Chairman of the Town Council to challenge whether this was a Town Meeting.

If I had of been content that it was a Town Meeting, I as Chairman would have legally chaired the meeting and my clerk would have minuted the meeting.

The reason why these matters of procedure are so important is that an incorrect calling of a Parish Poll, would be challenged by the Town Council. Mendip District Council if they had organised incurring expense on an invalid Poll and would be challengeable by the Town Council as improper expenditure and not capable of being reimbursed by the Town Council; thus leaving the District with unlawful expenditure which would be open to highlight at Audit.

So, I was left between a rock and a hard place.

I had to decide whether I deemed it a legally organised Town meeting.

I also knew that they're were enough people to call a Parish Poll at the meeting and that those people attending would consider I was blocking their aspirations to show the new Civic Centre at Park Road was an expense people did not want to incur.

Fortunately, the people at the meeting decided to hold another meeting within fourteen days, I thanked them for their understanding and appreciated their frustrations but I had to conduct my role as Chairman, whatever my personal thoughts were.

As the Town Council had not voted any money to investigate the Civic Hall project and the Audit Commission had written a report as Guidance for Local Councils, I assured the meeting that there was no rush to proceed with the call for a Poll last evening and they're was sufficient time, if enough electors wanted to pursue a Parish Poll.

I cannot see any way the civic centre can be built without the electors of Shepton agreeing to the project, this through a poll, the only question is the best time to hold the poll.

Is the best time to hold a Poll now? The advantage of this if the poll was successful rejecting the Civic Hall would stop the Town Council spending money and effort, as the Town Council has the potential of affordable premises.

Or is it better to wait to see if a viable plan for a Civic Hall ever sees the light of day before holding a Poll?

This question is not in my gift, however I will conduct my role as Chairman and the Town Council within the law and uphold the best traditions of the Shepton Mallet Town Council.

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