AddThis SmartLayers

Council to reconsider secret votes thanks to weekly’s investigation

Carmelo GarciaA council is set to reconsider holding votes in secret thanks to a weekly newspaper’s investigation.

Herefordshire Council has pledged to look into the matter after it was raised by Carmelo Garcia, a BBC local democracy reporter based at the Hereford Times.

HTFP reported earlier this month how Carmelo, pictured, had hit out at council secrecy after his attempts to find out how councillors voted on plans for a new by-pass were branded “populist divisiveness”.

Councillors did not call for a named vote on the issue meaning it effectively became a secret ballot – prompting Carmelo subsequently contact every member of the council, although some refused to reveal how they voted.

But now council chairman Sebastian Bowen has agreed to raise the matter with officers after another councillor raised the Times’s story in a meeting.

Because meetings of the authority are currently held online there is no way for the public to know how each member votes on decisions, meaning votes effectively become secret ballots unless council members call for a named vote.

Councillor Jonathan Lester suggested during a full meeting of the authority that he and his colleagues should have a named vote on all decisions until they find a better arrangement for recording votes at meetings.

He told the meeting on Friday: “I must protest. We have just undertaken inadvertently to secret ballots when voting.

“In response to the press article about voting intentions, and the way there seems to be some confusion as to who votes in what way.

“I would urge us to have a named vote on all our votes until this matter can be resolved.

“I don’t wish to make a big issue about it, but there seems to be an issue with the integrity of the council if there is a question mark about how people are voting.”

In response, Cllr Bowen pledged to take up Cllr Lester’s concerns with council officers.

He said: “We will come to some agreement and arrangement on that in the future.

“Just for today we will carry on as we are and I don’t think there is anything particularly controversial matters causing hackles to be raised anywhere.”

Speaking to HTFP, Carmelo said: “It’s good to see the council seems to be taking on board the need for councillor votes to be open and transparent, albeit slowly.

“There’s no excuse in this day and age for the decisions of elected representatives to be kept from the public.”