‘Council needs to improve its transparency’

Witney Gazette: ‘Council needs to improve its transparency’ ‘Council needs to improve its transparency’

WITNEY Town Council needs to get guidance on how to become more open, according to one of its members.

Duncan Enright has sent a letter to mayor Peter Dorward suggesting that the council seeks advice on how to improve its transparency.

His move follows a series of committee meetings from which the Witney Gazette and members of the public have been excluded and accusations of secrecy by residents.

Mr Enright, the Labour councillor for Witney East ward, spoke out after another committee meeting was held behind closed doors on Monday for two agenda items.

He said: “The council belongs to the people of the town and it’s our duty to communicate our business in the open, as long as it doesn’t include confidential information, about members of staff, for example.

“But the council has quite narrow definitions of what is confidential at the moment and I think we need to consider them more widely.”

Last week, a Gazette reporter was told to leave a meeting of the public halls committee during discussions about the future of the Corn Exchange and the Langdale Hall.

Members cited concerns that the paper had “misrepresented things” in the past but offered no clarification on what this meant at the time.

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At the annual town meeting last Wednesday, several residents said they were concerned about the meetings taking place in private and asked for more communication.

Woodford Mill resident Tony Stark said: “It doesn’t matter about it being a long-term project, people like to know what’s going on, otherwise it feels quite secretive.”

On Monday, the finance and general purposes committee’s seven members again voted unanimously to sit in private.

Explaining the decision, town clerk Sharon Groth said the two items were commercially sensitive. One was a discussion on property leases and the other was about staff.

Mr Enright proposed inviting someone experienced in local government to help the town council.

In his letter to Mr Dorward, he said it had been clear from what was said at the town meeting that residents were unhappy about the lack of information.

He said: “The aim here is to clarify the responsibility of councillors for their work, including letting the people they represent know what they are doing, and should therefore relieve the burden on our hard-working staff, rather than impose new duties.”

Mr Enright suggested councillors should engage with residents more through the press, the council’s website and social media.

He said Oxford City Council had a good reputation for open conduct and proposed inviting an officer to a meeting to offer guidance.

Mr Dorward said he would like to speak to Mr Enright about the letter before making a full comment.

But he added: “The whole issue is being considered in a positive light and from the annual town meeting we discussed ways in which the council could project information about a variety of matters that seem to have the interest of the townsfolk.”

Comments (5)

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9:58am Wed 19 Mar 14

Mrs Arcanum says...

Surely it would make more sense to put sensitive items at the end of the agenda and ask any members of the press or public to leave at that point.
Surely it would make more sense to put sensitive items at the end of the agenda and ask any members of the press or public to leave at that point. Mrs Arcanum
  • Score: 1

11:03am Wed 19 Mar 14

windrushview says...

Brilliant Duncan .Keep up the good work .
Brilliant Duncan .Keep up the good work . windrushview
  • Score: 3

3:39pm Wed 19 Mar 14

OutToPasture says...

The bottom line is this...

These councillors have become to comfortable running things to their own gain. It's almost like they have made Witney their own kingdom under their own control based on the premise that David Cameron is their best buddy.

The current town council no longer represent the people of Witney.

It may also help if they didn't hold meetings with building developers in places like Hacketts where everyone can hear them discussing things such as £500,000 donations towards the Corn Exchange in return for planning permission.

They're hiding something, and the more secret they become, the bigger the thing is they are trying to hide.

It's time for the community of Witney to vote in fresh blood and bring change to years of pensioner rule.

No doubt this will be deleted by WG/OM because despite their standing on this matter, even they are controlled to an extent by the members of this council.
The bottom line is this... These councillors have become to comfortable running things to their own gain. It's almost like they have made Witney their own kingdom under their own control based on the premise that David Cameron is their best buddy. The current town council no longer represent the people of Witney. It may also help if they didn't hold meetings with building developers in places like Hacketts where everyone can hear them discussing things such as £500,000 donations towards the Corn Exchange in return for planning permission. They're hiding something, and the more secret they become, the bigger the thing is they are trying to hide. It's time for the community of Witney to vote in fresh blood and bring change to years of pensioner rule. No doubt this will be deleted by WG/OM because despite their standing on this matter, even they are controlled to an extent by the members of this council. OutToPasture
  • Score: 5

5:36pm Wed 19 Mar 14

the wizard says...

It stinks, the debates are about public issues that involve and concern the towns public. The assets as such belong to the council which in turn is all about the town and the public, the VOTING public. What is there is hide, why the secrecy, why is Cllr Dorward and his buddies allowed this hollier than thou attitude, its sly, its disgusting and its out of order.

Either sit and discuss in public or resign as you are hiding something away that we the rate payers and towns public have a right to know. Face up or ship out Mr Dorward and take your secret society with you, we live in a country of free speech, if you want secrecy then ship out to Russia, where you will no doubt be welcomed.. I believe that they have a few vacancies right now in a newly conquered land.
It stinks, the debates are about public issues that involve and concern the towns public. The assets as such belong to the council which in turn is all about the town and the public, the VOTING public. What is there is hide, why the secrecy, why is Cllr Dorward and his buddies allowed this hollier than thou attitude, its sly, its disgusting and its out of order. Either sit and discuss in public or resign as you are hiding something away that we the rate payers and towns public have a right to know. Face up or ship out Mr Dorward and take your secret society with you, we live in a country of free speech, if you want secrecy then ship out to Russia, where you will no doubt be welcomed.. I believe that they have a few vacancies right now in a newly conquered land. the wizard
  • Score: 1

8:47pm Wed 19 Mar 14

windrushview says...

Here Here Out to Pasture and The Wizard .
These people seem to forget they are OUR representatives. It seems that once they got onto the council they forgot just who put them there.
They seem to think they can do as they want ,mainly behind closed doors and we,the man in the street should accept that .

NO NO NO ,sorry ,that aint the way it works Councillor Dorward and gang. Hopefully the people of Witney will vote most of you off next year
.A councillor signs up to do a service for the public not to boost his own ego ,which is what it seems most of this council like doing . ,
Here Here Out to Pasture and The Wizard . These people seem to forget they are OUR representatives. It seems that once they got onto the council they forgot just who put them there. They seem to think they can do as they want ,mainly behind closed doors and we,the man in the street should accept that . NO NO NO ,sorry ,that aint the way it works Councillor Dorward and gang. Hopefully the people of Witney will vote most of you off next year .A councillor signs up to do a service for the public not to boost his own ego ,which is what it seems most of this council like doing . , windrushview
  • Score: 0

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