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Weekly editor overturns council bid for secrecy

An investigation into a town council’s co-option process will be held in public after its local weekly overturned a bid to hold sessions behind closed doors.

Editor of the Market Rasen Mail Paul Fisher appealed against a motion to exclude the public and press from all proceedings, claiming the matter did not meet any of the criteria necessary.

The council came under fire from a district councillor and the town’s MP after refusing to co-opt two eligible candidates onto the council – and not giving any reasons why.

An extraordinary meeting was called to discuss the matter, but the first item on the agenda was a motion to eject reporters and hold the meeting in private due to “confidentiality” issues.

Paul, who attended the meeting himself and argued the case in person, said:  “I told them that discussing their decision does not come under confidentiality.

“There are eight clear points when you refer to the law surrounding when a council can go into closed sessions, and this didn’t come under any of them.  After some debate, the clerk informed them they didn’t have any grounds for an exclusion.”

The council then admitted defeat and agreed that a full investigation into its co-option process and the way it handles complaints should be carried out and the matter discussed in public.

The matter was postponed until the next full meeting of the council on February 6.

Added Paul: “I am pleased we managed to overturn this. Some small councils, often through no fault of their own, perhaps don’t always understand what they can exclude the press from and what they cannot.

“Hopefully they now understand the importance and the benefits of it.

“From our point of view, we want to see things being done in the open to keep our readers abreast of all the latest news in the area.”

Co-option arises when there is a vacancy after elections through insufficient candidates.

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  • January 29, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Excellent! Well done, Paul Fisher.

    Too many councils – even unitaries which should know better – press the secrecy button just on the whim of an officer.

    In my experience, very few councillors have any awareness of the attendance rights of the press and public – and they seldom challenge excusion orders.

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