Posted: Fri 22nd Mar 2024

Vote of no confidence not heard in ‘unreal’ meeting prompting councillor walk out

Wrexham.com for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Friday, Mar 22nd, 2024

Councillors walked out of the Governance and Audit meeting on Thursday (21 March) following a failed attempt to remove the Chair of the committee.

The issues again appear to be rooted in the fraught Local Development Plan adoption which saw multiple votes, legal challenges, and as readers will be aware a police investigation into senior councillors.

The public kick off saw the acting chair of the committee and Council Leader Mark Pritchard talking over each other and councillors walking out – with one saying they were disappointed “concerns are being swept under the carpet”.

Last week we reported how Cllr Dana Davies had labelled Cllr Pritchard and Plaid Group Leader, Marc Jones as ‘shallow versions of Trump & Kim Jong Un‘ – while the councillors involved asked: “Is the Labour Party locally involved in this attempt to silence democratically elected councillors?”

Two involved in that spat clashed again on Thursday during what appeared to be a straightforward Governance and Audit committee meeting, a body that is meant in part to keep oversee the council’s performance and professionalism.

The committee is made up of a politically diverse range of councillors and ‘lay’ members of the public.

However several councillors who appear aligned with the trio involved in the police investigation walked out after a vote of no confidence motion was ruled out of order.

Cllr Trevor Bates raised the issue in public during the ‘matters arising’ part of the agenda, stating: “I have circulated some emails and I mentioned that I wanted to raise a motion of no confidence in yourself as chair.

Referring to an email apparently from Jerry O’Keeffe, chair of the committee, Cllr Bates added: “But, before I do, I think perhaps you might like to explain something about the email that you send to me on the 9 February.

“It’s caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety, and not knowing how to deal with it in the best way. I have circulated to all members of this committee.

Referring to the mystery email he invited: “I was wondering if you wanted to make a statement before that, how it came about, or why you sent it to me.”

Cllr Bates then read out an email he claimed was sent erroneously to him from the Chair of the committee, appearing to be to the police: “For members of the committee that perhaps haven’t heard it the email read ‘how does this email to the police read to you guys it sounds promising. Hence my reply to him aiming at teasing a more positive reply from him’.”

The Legal Officer of the Council was brought in and advised the committee to move the debate into part two – which would exclude press and public.

“It appears you wanting to raise matters that are in confidence,” said the legal officer.

“I’m concerned that you’re trying to raise it public.

“If you want to discuss confidential things I would advise members to consider whether we move into part two to discuss those rather than in public.”

Cllr Dana Davies, at that point vice-chair of the meeting, added: “I’m concerned here that we may be touching on a whistleblowing policy as well. So we need to be really, really careful.”

Lay member Trevor Coxon – who previously worked as Wrexham Council’s Head of Corporate and Customer Services and Council Monitoring Officer – queried why the committee was discussing a topic that was not on the agenda, and thus how was it possible to be subject to a vote.

The Legal Officer agreed: “You are correct because it is not on the agenda this morning.

“There is actually no provision in our constitution for considering that at this point in the meeting.”

Plaid Cymru’s Cllr Becca Martin stated she had already seconded the motion via email, and proposed moving the meeting to ‘part two’ secret session to discuss things further.

The Legal Officer rejected that bid: “I did respond to Councillor Bates to explain there is no provision in our constitution for your request that in this type of meeting, unless you can refer me to something else in the Constitution, but there is no provision in the constitution for that.”

Cllr Martin replied: “So there’s no rules? So we have concerns that have not been addressed.

“I haven’t received an email other than an email shutting down any discussion over”.

At this point Cllr Dana Davies took the Chair of the meeting from Jerry O’Keeffe as the matter concerned him.

Cllr Davies pointed to the Constitution and explained that any such motions would need to go to Full Council first, and then the Full Council could defer the debate to the Audit committee or any other committee.

Cllr Bates explained that the process had been followed as had been explained: “A motion of no confidence was put to the Legal Officer to go to Full Council and it was refused by the Legal Officer.

“I’m just wondering why you seem to feel that you’ve got better knowledge of everything than the Legal Officer?”.

Cllr Davies replied: “There a process for a motion and part of the processes is whether it’s lawful or not.

“If there’s no motion of no confidence in the Constitution, then you can’t raise a no confidence issue”.

Cllr Bates told the committee: “I was told I could raise it today by the Legal Officer”.

The Legal Officer told the meeting: “I’ve specifically advised Cllr Bates that there’s no procedure in the constitution for what he is attempting to do this morning.

“I’ve also met separately with Cllr Bates to explain the avenues that he can use. So that has been explained to him already.”

Independent Cllr Paul Rogers waded in, stating: “I have concerns that a number of members have put their concerns in writing.

“Obviously, there was a response from a monitoring officer, which explained that there wasn’t any further correspondence regarding the matter.

“Things have moved on since then, and I understand discussions have taken place between members and the monitoring officer.

“I am a bit confused as to whether anything has been put in writing as to the process which members should have taken before today.

“There has been a significant amount of time to consider which way to go on this and if that hasn’t been communicated to the members, I would like to understand why.”

After Cllr Davies repeated the process outlined earlier Cllr Rogers came back to note that Cllr Bates said he had submitted a motion of no confidence via that process but it was rejected.

The Legal Officer said: “I confirm I’ve provided in writing a method by which Councillor Bates can raise his issues”.

Cllr Bates read out an email of advice he had been given, in part said: “Whilst you can raise no confidence in the chair.

“It does not have the effect of sacking the chair. There is no mechanism for this in the Constitution or legislation.

“If you do raise this for debate, it would not be appropriate for the chair to remain whilst there is such a debate”.

Cllr Bates questioned why he was supplied with such advice if it turns out it was entirely ‘irrelevant’ compared to the processes outlined in the meeting.

Cllr Davies reiterated the process for bringing a motion again, and tried to move the debate to a ‘closure’: “It’s not an agenda item.

“It’s not a consideration for this committee at this moment in time and I would ask you to liaise with the group leader and the legal officer on how you want to take that forward.”

Some councillors were clearly unhappy with that, with Cllr Martin pointing out she had seconded a motion and questioned if “any discussion around this is just being completely shut down.”

Cllr Davies said: “I haven’t taken a proposal and I haven’t taken a seconder because the motion in front of this committee is out of order.”

She added: “We are being overseen by Welsh Audit here. This is an Audit and Governance Committee.

“The clue is in the title. We need to ensure that we comply with procedures including our constitution.

“So I’m going to end the discussion here because it’s out of order. It’s not the committee to have the discussion.”

Cllr Rogers wasn’t happy, stating “…a number of members clearly have serious concerns” and suggested moving the debate to ‘part two’ private session.

That was rejected by the Chair Cllr Davies, who opened up the debate for one more contribution adding “then I am going to close down” to move the meeting forward.

Mr Coxon backed the chair’s view: “Can we move to the next item of business because I think there is provision in the standing orders we move to next item of business.

“You’ve explained very carefully that there is no procedure for this matter to be raised here in this Committee this morning.

“We have a full agenda and I think we should move on to the next item of business”

Council Leader Mark Pritchard tried to contribute although not a member of the committee, to the resistance of the Chair, he said: “I’m sure members of this committee would like us to move on. But this is a serious issue, extremely serious.”

“What I want to say is the public domain. So I’m doing nothing wrong. I’ve taken legal advice, so you’re aware. There was an investigation by…”

Cllr Pritchard was cut off, by Cllr Davies: “I’m not going into the detail of that.

“That’s why I wouldn’t bring you in to start with”.

Cllr Pritchard and Cllr Davies then were talking over each other as Cllr Pritchard asked on ‘what grounds will you not allow me to finish?’.

Cllr Davies again reiterated the process to take a motion to Full Council, which would then be deferred possibly to the committee.

“I am not referring to the motion here today,” said Cllr Pritchard.

“I am not referring to the elected members concerns.

“I’m referring to my concerns and I’m asking a question to you as vice chair, and the chair in his capacity, that there was an investigation by North Wales Police….”

Cllr Davies angrily told Cllr Pritchard, “No! No! You can’t do this.

“You cannot take over the Audit and Governance meeting bringing your concerns here when they are not relevant to the work.

“There’s no agenda item here that would allow you to discuss what you want to discuss” describing the situation as ‘unreal’.

The Legal Officer was brought in and advised: “The chair of the meeting currently as ruled as to what the position is and is asked to move on with the meeting and I would advise that is the position”

Cllr Martin told the meeting she would be walking out: “I am informing you that I will be leaving the meeting because I feel hypocritical when I have concerns that have not been addressed.

“They haven’t been addressed in the last month since I raised them. They’re not being addressed here.

“I don’t feel that I can sit in a meeting where these concerns are being swept under the carpet.”

Cllr Davies noted that and said she was ‘really disappointed that you will not stay in to carry out that important work of this committee’.

Cllr Trevor Bates and Cllr Paul Roberts also said they would be leaving the meeting.

Chair of the meeting Cllr Davies gave her verdict: “I think it’s obvious now that we’ve got members that are not committed to the work of the Governance and Audit Committee and I find it really disappointing”.

Cllr Beverly Parry Jones, who had been sat on Zoom waiting to contribute, spoke to express her concerns over the meeting conduct and suggested it would be reconvened at another time: “Just as to minimise the risk to the council because, as you’re so fond of saying in the past, it’s our reputation Councillor Davies.

“Our reputation and I do have serious concerns about the way this meeting, especially today, is being conducted in public”.

Cllr Davies rejected the call to defer: “We just need to focus on the work of the committee and prioritise that work and, to put it bluntly, ignore anything else that is going off to be honest.”

At this point Jerry O’Keeffe became formal Chair of the meeting again, and the normal business resumed.

Top pic: Empty chairs following the walk out… 

 



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