Posted: Wed 10th Nov 2021

Mayor’s u-turn after Administration + Labour threaten to walk out of Full Council

Wrexham.com for people living in or visiting the wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Nov 10th, 2021

Wrexham’s mayor has been subject to anger from some councillors for going against legal advice in a meeting , with others praising what they saw as a defence of democracy.

Yesterday saw a high profile meeting over city status bid paused to sort out a fiery debate over who was right or wrong on a matter of process, a councillor unhappy the meeting had ended before he was able to put his own amendment forward and shades of a Ty Pawb debate with the physical closure of the Guildhall at 7pm affecting the virtual meeting.

The main issue revolved around the Mayor Ronnie Prince looking to reject an amendment – which he said would disenfranchise 42 councillors – despite the Council’s Legal Officer reiterating several times it was legally allowed and in line with the Council’s Constitution.

The Rules

Wrexham Council’s business is defined and ruled by its constitution, which details the role and functions of the mayor, executive board, full council etc.

The Mayor is defined as being someone who should “uphold and promote the purpose of the constitution, and to interpret the Constitution when necessary”, “be the conscience of the Council” as well as “…preside over meetings of the Council so that its business can be carried out fairly and efficiently and with regard to the rights of Councillors and the interests of the Community” and “…ensure that the Council meeting is a forum for the debate of matters of concern to the local community and the place at which Members who are not on the Executive are able to hold the Executive and Committee Chair to account” and is a non-political civic role.

A “Rules of Debate” snippet was helpfully circulated to councillors before the meeting by the legal officer, that included the note on amendments and the various process around it as detailed in the constitution, and pointed councillors to look at section 4.23 themselves for the full details.

(e) Amendments – these must be moved and seconded. They can add words, remove words or refer subject to another Committee.
(f) An amendment must be relevant to the main motion and it must not just negate the main motion.
(g) Only 1 amendment may be debated at a time although notice of others can be given if the current one fails.
(h) If an amendment is lost on the vote other amendments can be moved.

Amendments are always voted on before the original motion. If an amendment is carried it then becomes what is called “the substantive motion” and is available itself for amendment. Subject to that it is finally voted on.

The First Amendment

The meeting was due to debate a single motion pulled forward by Plaid Cymru that read, “this council does not support a bid for city status”.

Motions can be changed via amendments, with one put forward by Council Leader Mark Pritchard, who asked if the mayor ‘was comfortable with that?’ to which the mayor replied “I would like to hear it”.

Cllr Pritchard proposed replacing the text of the motion with: “The full council invites the executive board to consider a bid for city status at the next scheduled meeting”.

Seconds after the amendment was put forward Cllr Marc Jones raised a point of order – a process that specifically allows an “alleged irregularity in the procedure of the meeting” to be raised by any councillor.

On points of order the constitution gives the ultimate decision making power to the mayor: “The ruling of the mayor on the matter will be final.”

Cllr Jones pointed to (f) in the above guidance, stating he felt the amendment ‘negated’ the motion and therefore should not be allowed – effectively creating a Mayoral ruling on if the amendment would be allowed or not.

The mayor called on the legal officer for advice, who pointed the meeting to section 4.23.6.1 and 4.23.6.1.1 in the Constitution, which states “An amendment to a motion must be relevant to the motion and will either be”“…to refer the matter to an appropriate body or individual for consideration or reconsideration” and therefore no mention of the negating rule, and thus in the view of the legal officer the amendment should be viewed as compliant with the constitution.

The mayor took that ‘legal advice’, but ruled: “My concern is you will disenfranchise 42 councillors of this council and will refer it back to only 10 councillors making decisions for everybody.

“I just cannot see how we have the opportunity to represent our community that will be denied that opportunity if this amendment is accepted and for that reason, and for openness and democracy I will not be accepting the amendment.”

The Kick Off

The mayor hearing that point of order, acting with the remit of being the ‘conscience’ of the council, and with his ruling being ‘final’ on such points of order did not move business forward as you would expect with an almighty – and unprecedented – dispute erupting.

Deputy Leader Cllr David A Bithell immediately called another point of order, which the ‘alleged irregularity’ of business was “I think you are wrong Mr Mayor”, pointing to the constitution and asking for legal advice on the same topic from the legal officer as Cllr Bithell felt it was a ‘valid amendment’.

The mayor tried to respond, however was interrupted by Cllr Pritchard who also called for a point of order, which the ‘alleged irregularity’ of business appeared to be to highlight Cllr Bithell had said the above seconds before.

The mayor carried on, to state he had already had legal advice on the motion prior to the meeting (not the amendment as that did not exist then), “…and that legal advice clearly stated that it was everything was okay to accept it”, adding: “Now what you’re doing here today you are referring back to the executive board, we may as well not about this meeting, it was a complete waste of time, a complete waste of money.

“Why didn’t we get that advice before?  I really have a problem to accept that amendment because it denies 42 councillors the chance to vote on this issue. I can’t accept that.”

The mayor had now ruled on the three points of order, in what the constitution says should be his ‘final’ decision.

The legal officer then detailed the difference between the legal advice to allow the motion / meeting itself, and the new ‘strong legal advice’ to allow the amendment as ‘it fits within the terms of the constitution’, adding “…a vote on that amendment is not stifling debate. It is following the correct procedure under the Constitution. As the mayor you are here to uphold the constitution”.

Cllr Dana Davies then raised a new point of order, citing section 4.23.6.1.1 of the constitution – the same item that had been raised in the first point of order – and that the mayor had already ruled on in a ‘final’ way.

Cllr Davies pointed out that the decision debated in the motion itself was a decision for the executive board, and going off previous motions should have been batted to executive board straight away, but the mayor had allowed the debate.

Cllr Davies encouraged the mayor “to follow the advice of our legal officer in upholding the constitution”.

At this point Cllr Pritchard asked the mayor to consider an adjournment to ‘discuss this’ as “if we’re not careful here we’re going to bring this council into disrepute.”

He added that a discussion with the group leaders was needed to “move us forward.”

The legal officer said that was a ‘suitable way to deal with the matter’. The public webcast went dark.

It is unclear what would have happened if the meeting had proceeded with an unconstitutional decision standing, and the Constitution itself is unclear on what should have happened.

Behind Closed Doors

Wrexham.com understands the mayor along with councillors Pritchard, David A Bithell, Hugh Jones, Dana Davies and Marc Jones along with Wrexham Council’s legal officer then held a separate thirty minute long – non confidential, nor Part 2, nor formal council meeting – to discuss the topic which got ‘very heated’ at times.

The exact details are unknown however after speaking with multiple sources familiar with the matter what has emerged is Cllr Davies was unhappy with what was in her view an unconstitutional position, and therefore stated the entire Labour group would leave such a meeting if that position remained.

The Council Administration – the Independent Group led by Cllr Pritchard, the Wrexham Independents led by Cllr David A Bithell, and the Conservatives led by Cllr Hugh Jones,  formed up around that viewpoint in a consensus against the Mayor, with a view his actions were against the Constitution – and that all would not take part in an unconstitutional meeting.

We are told the legal officer reiterated the legal advice as given in public several times, that the amendment proposed was compliant with the constitution, and the Mayor’s actions was not compatible with the constitution.

It appears other options were discussed, including a full deferment of the meeting itself. We are told there was great concern over the reputation of the council, although it appears no self-awareness that the dark screens and zero information to the public at that point could be seen as less than impressive.

The process and possibilities of taking and debating further amendments were also covered, something that become relevant as detailed below.

The exact details may never be known, but the outcome was that a reluctant mayor changed his mind and was set to allow the amendment.

Return To Daylight

No communication to the public took place on the meeting restarting, so unless you were primed and ready to locate the meeting rebooting you would have missed the opening few seconds as it reconvened – which was a short key period to explain what had happened.

The mayor told the meeting he had now accepted the amendment put forward by Cllr Pritchard, but branded it ‘undemocratic’ – with the legal officer immediately telling the meeting it was in fact ‘not undemocratic’.

No detail of what took place behind closed doors was given to members or the public, and the meeting proceeded as we reported last night.

The Second Amendment

Within two minutes of the restart amid two other points of order, Cllr Mike Davies called for a point of order to get clarity on where the meeting was actually up to: “Are we debating the amendment, or has it just been seconded?

“I am not clear what is happening, as if it has just been seconded I would like to put a further amendment”.

At this point a five year old’s handwriting was complimented by a mysterious voice.

Cllr David A Bithell was invited to finish off seconding the Cllr Pritchard amendment.

The legal officer reminded the mayor of “g” in the rules above, that only one amendment may be debated at a time. Cllr Mike Davies queried the process, and was told by the legal officer the Pritchard amendment should be debated.

Immediately after, with no debate, Cllr David A Bithell asked “Can we move the vote on the amendment then please?”, something that did not happen as Cllr Dana Davies pointed out people should have a chance debate the amendment.

Roughly an hour and a half of ‘debate’ took place, with a move to a vote proceeding, at that point Cllr Mike Davies raised another point of order asking if he could now put his amendment forward.

The legal officer said: “One amendment may be debated at a time and that is what we have been doing.

“Although Cllr Mike Davies has given notice of another potential amendment, the first, this whole amendment, it’s been fully debated and now needs to be voted on.”

A named roll call of every councillor then took place (named results here), with a FOR / AGAINST / ABSTAIN / ABSENT recorded for each. At the end of that process the legal officer said:”Give me one moment just to check the numbers, Mr. Mayor – 36 votes in favour of the amendment recorded 9 votes against the amendment recorded, and one abstention.”

The mayor said, “Thank you, so that passed”.

The legal officer asked the meeting: “That means that that becomes a substantive motion and we will have a final vote on that matter.

Due to the time it takes to do a full roll call of names, and likely due to the references of the Guildhall closing at 7pm, just minutes away, the Legal Officer asked, quite normally on such votes, “Can I ask if anybody would vote differently from how they’ve already voted?”

In a process that took around ten seconds, the legal officer said” “I don’t see any hands? We’ll take that as recorded.”

The mayor started to wrap up the meeting referring to it as ‘concluding’, until Cllr Marc Jones interrupted him with a “Woah, woah… there is an amendment to the amendment!”

Confusion reigned. The mayor asked, “Can we still have the amendment now that has passed?” and asked for legal advice.

The legal officer said: “That amendment becomes a substantive motion that has been passed by council this afternoon.”

The mayor asked: “So now, can we or can we not, take an amendment now?”

The legal officer replied: “Not on that, that motion has passed as the substantive motion, the wording was agreed”.

The mayor said: “That means it is finished?”

Cllr Dana Davies interjected noting that “Cllr Mike Davies should have come in with his amendment” after the first vote took place.

The mayor said Cllr Mike Davies ‘was denied that’.

However Cllr Dana Davies said: “He wasn’t, he was not brought in, you took the vote to the substantive motion vote, but you should have brought Cllr Mike Davies in.”

Cllr Alun Jenkins supported Cllr Dana Davies view, that as Cllr Mike Davies had given notice of his amendment ‘the slot should have been made available for him to move that before we move to the substantive motion’.

Cllr Mike Davies said: “I proposed a further amendment. I was denied that opportunity. I’ve asked twice for that. I was denied so I’m not quite sure constitutionally where this all stands.

“Why was I denied access when other people weren’t?”

Cllr Dana Davies reiterated: “The mayor should have brought you in before the substantive vote”.

The Mayor, who was running the meeting as Chair, batted it to the legal officer: “I thought the legal officer, knowing the legal situation, would have brought Mike in”.

The legal officer asked Cllr Mike Davies what his amendment was, he replied: “It’s not relevant now. It’s past.

“We’ve had the vote and it is pointless going back through it, I am just disappointed the process basically stifled something I wanted to say.”

You can read a further report from the meeting here, that saw 46 councillors have their say effectively on City Status.

 

(Top pic: The Mayor, Cllr Ronnie Prince, playing his own tune.)



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