Questions were submitted to be asked in the ‘public questions’ section of the Executive Board meeting this week, despite the meeting being told none had been submitted.
Due to the way Wrexham Council works members of the public have to submit your questions a week before the meeting, so for the Tuesday meeting this week the deadline was middday the Wednesday before. This can create some issues as the agendas for the meeting usually emerge on the Wednesday afternoon so no public questions are possible on the detail of reports.
The process for asking questions is detailed at length, including grounds for refusal, here on the Wrexham Council website.
At the meeting on Tuesday Wrexham Council Leader Mark Pritchard opened the meeting and went to the first section of business for the meeting, as below.
Cllr Pritchard said: “Item Agenda 1, questions, public and members questions. There haven’t been any submitted so we will now move on to Item Agenda 2.”
This description of a lack of questions has caused upset to those who believe they had submitted a valid question.
Due to the comment by the Council Leader in the meeting we reported that no questions had been submitted by councillors or members of the public.
In emails seen by Wrexham.com questions do appear to have been submitted just after 8am on Wednesday 6th, well ahead of the midday deadline. The accompanying documentation makes it clear the question is being ‘submitted’ for the Executive Board meeting that was held on Tuesday.
The questions requested various pieces of data relating to homelessness in Wrexham.
During the meeting a member of the public in the gallery stood up and challenged Cllr Pritchard – viewable here on the webcast with audio also catching an accusation of a ‘lie’ – which subsequently appears to be one of the submitters of the question referring to the earlier statement that there had been no questions submitted.
Member of public stands up in public gallery and tries to address meeting. Told to sit down. Cllr Harper moves on stating she is unhappy.
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) September 12, 2017
The feedback to the person asking the questions indicates a discussion took place between the Council Leader and Wrexham Council’s Head of Corporate and Customer Services (who receives the question submissions) with an effective redirection of the requested public question opportunity.
The reply we have seen indicates the reasoning was due to the questions relating to ‘information which it will take some time to ascertain its existence and if it does exist to source it’, along with question marks over even if the data existed if it could be released. As a result the Freedom of Information process was seen as a better route. It appears Wrexham Council have started such a FOI request for the question submitter, and thus the question informally disallowed.
Under the public rules over public questions it states: “The Chair may at his/her absolute discretion disallow questions/statements which he/she believes are expressed in inappropriate terms, are irrelevant or outside the scope of the Council’s functions, vexatious, repetitive or unduly lengthy.”
We have asked Wrexham Council to clarify if any public or member (Councillor) questions were submitted for the Executive Board meeting. We also asked if there were submissions what the status of them were eg. rejected, answered, out of time or some other detail.
Cllr Mark Pritchard, Leader of the Council, said: “Three questions were submitted to the Board by members of the Help Wrexham Homeless group, one of which did not have any contact details and as such could not be processed. The other two questions would have been better dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act, and a response noting as such was sent to the those who had submitted the questions. Those questions are already being dealt with as FOI requests.”
The reply also included reference to a petition that was submitted to Wrexham Council that demands a ‘public meeting with representatives from the group ‘Help Wrexham’s Homeless’ to include Council Chief Executive, councillor Hugh Jones as key lead members and Councillor Mark Pritchard as the council leader’. It appears Wrexham Council have offered to meet the group, however in a private meeting rather than a public meeting, a proposal that has been rejected as ‘unacceptable’ by the group.
Referencing the petition Cllr Mark Pritchard said: “We have received the petition but it did not contain any signatures, and some of the names listed were clearly fictitious, and postcodes outside of the area were also listed.
“Lead Members have contacted members of the Help Wrexham Homeless group to discuss their request for a meeting on homelessness in Wrexham.”
On Tuesday evening we tweeted the below pointing people to the process to ask questions as there is lots of talk over scrutiny and criticism of Wrexham Council over various issues, but it is very rare to see any public queries despite the apparent processes in place to allow anyone to do so.
For those lowly members of the public wishing to ask a question – the process is detailed here: https://t.co/x8thauqOun Give it a go!
— Wrexham.com (@wrexham) September 12, 2017
Following the above submission of public questions which are then not heard in public and subsequent conversations with people who have submitted questions (including Councillors) over the process of asking questions we have submitted a Freedom of Information request. The request’s aim is to (hopefully) obtain copies of all similar public questions submitted over the last three years regardless of if they were asked, answered or rejected.
Top pic: Marty McFly as previously used when we wrote how the Wednesday deadlines can impede public questions. Re-used here as he could also be pondering when a submission is not a submission.