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Town hall man stands ground in secrecy row

A local government reporter stood his ground after being wrongly asked to leave a council meeting.

Alan Watkins, of the Medway Messenger, stayed seated in the Corn Exchange in Rochester as Medway councillors took a vote to exclude the press and public.

He explained afterwards that he had refused to leave because the council had not followed the proper procedures in passing the resolution.

“It was simple. I refused because the council had not passed a formal recommendation under the Local Government Act 1972 giving its reasons for exclusion,” he said.

“Just because the issue is mentioned in the agenda and the council votes to exclude you, doesn’t mean that that is a good or a valid legal reason to leave.”

Eventually chief executive Neil Davies intervened, a lawful proposal was put forward and Alan left until a deciding vote was taken.

The mayor had recommended exclusion of the press and public while the council debated the purchase of the Medway Tunnel for a pound.

The tunnel – built 12 years ago – urgently needs modernisation, but the cash-strapped council has been told the government will not fund it.

Comments

Morris Deadman (18/06/2008 07:21:09)
Interesting headline;not sure how proving a procedural point makes it a secrecy row!

º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º¤ø,¸¸,¤º ChillPhill º¤ø,¸¸,ø¤º¤ø,¸¸,¤º (18/06/2008 09:46:24)
Good to see Alan stood his ground – how many journalists would have simply meekly walked out when asked, and let the authority get away with shabby procedures.
Too many councils get away with this sort of thing “on the nod” and get used to a culture of “wehat we say goes” even if they get it wrong.
Top marks for a journalist knowing the rules.

Michael Mullan (18/06/2008 13:57:17)
Well done! I was in exactly this position some 25 years ago, covering a borough council in Northern Ireland. On a show of hands, a certain item was to be “taken in committee” – but the Act said that a otion to that effect had to be proposed, seconded and voted upon, so I stayed put. The Town Clerk marched over and demanded I leave; I explained why I had not, adding that I wished to report which councillors voted for and against debating the issue in public. He exploded: “Are you trying to tell me my job?” I thought about it, and said: “Er… yes.”

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