For the last five months, three resident councillors have been trying to obtain general “dispensations” from the City’s standards committee to speak and vote on behalf of their constituents on matters which affect those councillors no more than any of their constituents. In any other local authority, where 100% of the councillors are elected by residents, it would be taken for granted that councillors speak and vote on matters affecting those who elected them. But in the City, where only 20% of the councillors are elected by residents (the others being elected by sometimes tiny numbers of typically disengaged business voters), and where residents are widely regarded as a nuisance, the idea that resident councillors be allowed to speak and vote on matters affecting their constituents was, during 2018, rejected by the standards committee, which is the body responsible for granting “dispensations".
In December 2018, following several revelations about the standards committee, the Court of Common Council compelled it to change its policy so as to allow resident councillors to speak. The right to vote was left untouched, however, even though it is more important: residents are more interested in their councillors voting on their behalf than merely speaking. For more than a year, the standards committee has been under pressure to allow resident councillors to vote. Read more background and links to many posts under “Gagging Row” in the “Local Politics” section of this website.
In December 2019, the City Solicitor, who had not previously suggested that the “general” dispensations sought by the three resident councillors were unlawful, suddenly instructed a QC to opine that they were: DPI Advice.
As one who practised law for 30 years, I consider that this opinion should not be relied upon, particularly because of the way the instructions were written: Instruction to Counsel.
Here are my reasons: Extract from an email dated 18 December 2019.
A week ago, a second opinion from the QC responding to my comments was posted on the Corporations’s website: Second Opinion, although my comments were omitted.
Also posted on the website was a report of the City Solicitor to the standards committee for its meeting on Friday 24 January: Report.
I sent an email to the standards committee yesterday, commenting on the second opinion and on the proposals in the City Solicitor’s report: Email dated 22 January 2020.
I think the second opinion underscores the unreliability of the first one, and the vague/peripheral proposals in the report are unacceptable.
Anyone who is able to attend the standards committee meeting on Friday 24 January at 11am in the West Wing of the Guildhall is welcome to do so. Some members of that committee are trying to achieve reform, but they face determined opposition.
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