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Newark: Bingham Town Council mayor uses casting vote to no longer allow questions from public in open session

The mayor of a town council used his casting vote to pass a motion to no longer allow questions or comments from the public in open session.

Under-fire John Stockwood, who has been criticised during virtual meetings of Bingham Town Council for his handling of certain issues, will now ask for questions in advance of meetings and decide if they will be aired.

He said he was following the approach used by Rushcliffe Borough Council. However, the borough council said it used a system where decisions were made by an independent officer in conjunction with an elected member to ensure inpartiality.

Mayor John Stockwood of Bingham Town Council. (36803912)
Mayor John Stockwood of Bingham Town Council. (36803912)

A town councillor, Viv Leach, told the Advertiser she voted against the motion, and that she would continue to do what she could for the people of Bingham.

She said: “I voted against it because our residents should be allowed to have their say.”

On Facebook after the motion was passed, former town mayor Jane Costello said: “Extremely sad and depressing. It was obvious from comments at this meeting (and others) that no ex-councillors will get a question answered in future.

A former town mayor, Jane Costello.
A former town mayor, Jane Costello.

“We have now been effectively gagged. RIP democracy.

“Bingham should not have to endure another 27 months of this secrecy, undemocratic and bullying behaviour. As the standards board of Rushcliffe Borough Council said recently, ‘Bingham deserves better’.”

A Rushcliffe Borough Council spokesman said: “The council has a citizen’s questions opportunity at the beginning of its cabinet and full council meetings, giving residents and business owners the chance to ask questions about the authority or the services it provides.

“A key part of the council’s commitment to transparency, openness and accessibility in the democratic process, it asks all to submit a question in writing or by email three working days before each meeting.

“They are asked to be limited to one subject, but may have more than one part, and to avoid detailed individual service issues, such as individual bin collections, as there are other ways of raising many of these questions through the council’s existing communication channels. Officers in our democratic services team will provide every assistance to any individual wishing to ask a question, including with the wording or writing of the question if requested.”

Mr Stockwood said: “The resolved motion is for a 12-month trial of the format for public questions used by Rushcliffe Borough Council. Rushcliffe Borough Council has used this format for public questions since March 2018.

“This format is an opportunity to trial a more inclusive approach that supports greater participation from people who are unable to attend the meeting.

“In the Bingham Town Council motion it is the town clerk who accepts questions, in consultation with the mayor as chair of the meeting. Again, the mayor is consulted on the questions, but it is the town clerk who accepts them.”

Mr Stockwood refused to answer why the public should not be allowed to ask questions; and if it was undemocratic that he could pick which questions were publicly aired.

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