Removing questions from the box is a “long established practice”
Opposition councillors reacted in anger during Open Questions at the Central Bedfordshire Council‘s (CBC) full meeting held last week (26 September 2019).
This agenda item allows councillors to question the council leader and his team.
Cllr Adam Zerny (Independent, Potton) called a point of order, quoted the council’s constitution, and said that the Council’s monitoring officer was going through the questions.
In response the monitoring officer said he had taken the questions from the box:
“I haven’t sorted them whatsoever, as far as I’m concerned they’re random.”
Cllr John Baker (Independent, Aspley Guise) reported on his Facebook page that the question box for Open Questions was empty and also claimed that the questions were not being drawn at random.
He wrote that the questions seemed to be largely given to members of the ruling party and members of the leadership team filibustered their way through their answers. Open Questions has a limit of 30 minutes.
Monitoring Officer should not bring the council into disrepute
The monitoring officer is a statutory appointment and the CBC Constitution says that the monitoring officer should not take action that would bring the council, their offices or professions into disrepute.
Negative reactions to Cllr Baker’s post meant that the council was being held in low esteem by the public. The Chronicle asked CBC if this meant that there should there be a formal inquiry into the handling of the question forms to satisfy the public’s need for transparency.
A Council Spokesperson said:
“Member questions are deposited in a box in advance of the open question session of the Council. The process of these being removed from the box and passed to the chairman has been long established practice in the Council. The reason for doing this has been purely to assist the chairman to oversee the open question session in a time efficient manner.
“This is particularly important given the time limited nature of these sessions. Whilst this has never been challenged in the past, it has been acknowledged that it does not accord to the letter of the constitution.
“Therefore, in future, the chairman will take each question out of the box himself before inviting the member who has to put the question forward to address the leader, executive member or chairman of a committee.
“No further action by the Council is anticipated.”